Decoding the Hidden Meaning Behind 10 Types of Smiles

Young blonde woman with perfectly healthy teeth points to her mouth while smiling.

Almost every day, you smile at others and it is also natural to see people smiling while thinking about certain things even when no one is around! (Image: Aleksandr Rybalko via Dreamstime)

Almost every day, you smile at others and it is also natural to see people smiling while thinking about certain things even when no one is around! However, not all smiles are the same and the reasons behind them can be quite varied. Smiling at your employer at the workplace and smiling at seeing your neighborhood friend is not the same, for example. It is useful if you can decode the inner meanings and psychological implications of various types of smiles. Then, you would be able to figure out what is going on in the mind of the people sporting various types of smiles. 

Smiles stem from positive feelings, such as happiness, contentment, approval, and achievements.
Smiles stem from positive feelings, such as happiness, contentment, approval, and achievements. (Image: Bruce Mars via Unsplash)

10 common types of smiles and what they mean

1. Reward smiles

This type of smile stems from positive feelings, such as happiness, contentment, approval, and achievements. These smiles are used to make others motivated. Reward smiles involve mouth and cheeks muscles and also eye and brow region muscles. These smiles involve sensory stimuli.

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2. Lying or fake smiles

Sometimes, you will spot people smiling to hide their inner discomfort. They do it when they want to cover a lie. This can be a wide smile with flickering eyelids. Some people sporting fake smiles find it hard to keep the smile on for long. They also try to look away from others while smiling.

3. The embarrassed smile

Sometimes, you smile at others to express your embarrassment. This can be a goof-up at the workplace or breaking a cutlery piece in the kitchen, for example! The lips are widened and teeth can be seen, when you smile like this. 

4. The wistful smile

Weird as it may seem, sometimes people smile or laugh when they are amidst a lot of pain or shock. If you have watched the 1989 movie Steel Magnolias, recall the scene when Sally Fields bursts out laughing after burying her daughter. Psychologists however say this is not actually strange. The human mind finds an outlet in laughter amidst pain, at times. It helps the mental recovery process. 

5. Affiliative smiles

Sometimes, you may smile at people, especially junior colleagues or someone younger than you, to instill a sense of assurance in their minds. These smiles serve the purpose of social connectors. In these smiles, the lips are pulled upward and dimpling of cheeks happens too. Teeth may or may not be revealed. It is also seen as a compassionate gesture.

6. Dominance smiles

Not all smiles convey heartfelt emotions and feelings. Dominant smiles are used by people in powerful positions to exert their superiority over others. It can be seen in the face of a company owner or a top-rank political leader. This smile is often asymmetrical and one side of the mouth rises. It may also involve a lip curl and eyebrows may be raised slightly. This is decoded as a nonverbal type of menacing attitude. 

A smiling woman with brown hair, a light blue jacket, and matching headband, leans against a tree.
People use a polite smile in some situations. (Image: via Pixabay)

7. The polite smile

People use a polite smile in some situations, say psychologists. The polite smile may be used before unveiling bad news or it can be used at the first meeting. If you observe closely, in this smile, the lips widen but the eyes remain serious or they exhibit a lack of emotions. Polite smiles let you display courtesy while maintaining a distance. They are used a lot at formal social gatherings as well. 

8. The flirtatious smile

Sometimes, you may spot a person you have met on a date smiling often, without any apparent reason. This can be the flirtatious smile. It may or may not reveal the teeth. If you observe closely, there is a hint of naughtiness in the eyes of the person making this kind of smile. He or she may keep the head a little bent while looking at you and smiling. 

9. The Pan Am smile

This smile was named after the flight attendants working in now-defunct Pan Am airlines. They kept smiling at all times even when the customers drove them nuts. It is a fake and forced type of smile. This smile exposes teeth a lot and lips are widened while eyes remain still. This smile is seen also among people in the hospitality sector a lot.

10. The Duchenne smile

This smile reflects genuine enjoyment. It involves the eyes, cheeks, and mouth at the same time. This smile makes you seem authentic and friendly.

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