Why Is It Hard To Smile Naturally In Photographs?

Why Is It Hard To Smile Naturally In Photographs? Everyone wants to look their best in photographs; a big part is a bright, genuine smile. However, no matter how often you pose or say “cheese,” the resulting smile will never be quite as truthful as our genuine expression of joy.

Why Is It Hard To Smile Naturally In Photographs?

The question then becomes why we can’t just let our true smiles show while we’re being photographed.

A spontaneous smile vs. a deliberate smile

French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne published The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression in 1862, which explored the connection between facial expressions and emotions.

In this book, he laid forth the building blocks for what constitutes a genuine, happy grin. The crow’s feet lines around the eyes are a telltale sign of this “real” or “spontaneous” smile, often known as the Duchenne smile.

The zygomatic major muscle in your cheek and the orbicularis oculi muscle around your eyes are the primary movers in this smile.

The orbicularis oculi muscle contracts, making your eyes smaller, while the zygomatic major muscle pulls up on the corners of your lips, giving you crow’s feet.

The other person would know that this smile is genuine because our brains are very good at identifying genuine emotions in facial expressions.

Forcing a grin for the camera doesn’t need the same facial muscles as a genuine grin. That’s because the brain uses distinct processes to generate each variety of grins.

There are separate circuits in the brain for a genuine grin and one used for the show.

Researchers have revealed that distinct neural pathways are activated in the brain when we smile because of an internal state of positive emotion (like happiness) as opposed to when we smile in response to an external cue. Why Is It Hard To Smile Naturally In Photographs?

Also Read: 5 Qualities of Animals That Humans are Trying to Emulate Artificially

The orbicularis oculi muscles, responsible for the crow’s feet around the eyes and the upward pull of the cheeks in a genuine smile, are not activated in the same way in a forced grin. The brain’s left hemisphere was shown to be more active during natural, or “spontaneous,” smiling than the right hemisphere during intentional, or “voluntary,” smiling.

Therefore, purposeful smiling may not activate brain regions that process emotions and instead be a purely muscular action.

Leftward-leading activity in the brain, involving emotional processing, causes a genuine smile. Still, only happy experiences, like winning a game, obtaining a promotion, or even hearing a hilarious joke, will do this.

But having a photographer tells you to grin won’t make you feel happy.

Mimicking a Duchenne smile

People with Duchenne muscular dystrophy are often portrayed as having the most genuine, heartwarming smiles. A genuine, spontaneous grin has telltale signs—most notably, a crinkling of the eyes—that can’t be mimicked by a forced or forced-out grin. Nonetheless, we now know such is not the situation. Some people can fake a Duchenne smile in person or in photographs.

You’ve probably seen models and actors do this before. They put in many hours of practice to master the subtle nuances of facial expression; legend has it that a seasoned actor can cry on command.


This is wonderful news for the vast majority of us. Even if we’re feeling down, we can all look happy and bright in our images with some preparation. Emotion researchers in psychology and neuroscience are left with some doubts, nevertheless. Where else could we look for signs of happiness if the characteristics of a Duchenne smile weren’t reliable?

One example is the study of unfolding grins in real-time. They analyze not only the smile’s intensity but also its origins, duration, and rate of change. So far, studies in this field have suggested that timing can be used as a reliable indicator of whether or not a grin is genuine.

It was discovered that genuine grins lasted longer after removing the positive stimulus than phony ones. Such inconsistencies in showing emotion could aid authorities in identifying liars and perpetrators of crime.

Facial expressions serve a social purpose, and our ability to mimic Duchenne smiles may shed light on that.

However, there’s no need to fret; just go back to perfecting your grin in the mirror.

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