Why You Can’t Spot a Fake from a Real Smile

Yeah, no... she's not into you.

Can you tell the difference between a fake and a real smile? The short (3-5 minute) test asks you to report your “outlook” on life and “confidence” in spotting a fake versus real smile. Then it takes you through 20 tiny video snippets to determine a fake versus real smile. I haven’t been able to answer this question, though: did BBC determine if ability to detect a real smile correlated with positive outlook or not? I’m not sure I want the answer.

Having studied facial-action coding Eckman stuff a bit, I was overly confident and scored a mediocre 11 out of 20. Then, without looking at ANY of the answers (right or wrong) I adapted my approach to NOT feel the smile (going with gut) but to focus on analyzing it according to some of the information below. My second test was a 15 out of 20.

This from “ScienceBuddies” (source of images too): “Non-emotional or “fake” smiles result in movement of the “zygomatic major” muscle, but not the “orbicularis oculi.” These were first documented by French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne (hence “Duchenne smile”).

Now do you want to get better at this? Not necessarily. We may be hardwired to accept a fake smile… it helps us get along.

Freaky photo, but the muscles are labeled for ya

But here are some tips if you decide to try again (don’t use these during your first run).

  1. Says Eckman: “The only place that will reveal the difference in a broad intense smile is the skin between the eyebrows and the upper eyelid. That will move slightly down in the genuine smile and will not move in the social or false smile. Everybody can voluntarily make their lips smile, but very few people can contract the muscle that surrounds the eyes.”Look at whether the smile bunches up in the cheek, or moves outward.”
  2. Look for a contraction around the cheek, but that’s harder to detect and easier to fake.
  3. A real smile I believe is higher in the muscles of the face, and a forced smile involves fewer and outer muscles.
  4. Check the eyes for curling, but don’t let crows lines (or absence of them) deceive you- look for change.
  5. The eyebrows kept throwing me off since they appear sincere but are easy to manipulate than the cheek motion. May want to discount them.
  6. Watch the speed of onset and decline (but the videos kinda make that hard)

Via JasonYoungLive, here’s a test on your ability to interpret eyes. Again- this is a learnable skill, but not necessarily in your emotional self interest. It might help you spot a fake, but it might make you less emotionally receptive to a courtesy smile from a genuine person who’s just not in a good mood.

This one's easy, right? The test isn't.

16 Replies to “Why You Can’t Spot a Fake from a Real Smile”

  1. Well great, now all I’m going to do is examine people when I talk to them. One question, what the heck made you think of this? 🙂
    Peace, Ace77man

  2. That eyes test was hard. I got 25/36. Nearly all the ones I missed were female eyes. It’s so hard to read women.

  3. i just got 17/20… the trick is to look at the part of the eye where the “crows feet” wrinkle would be. If that wrinkle occurs during the smile, chances are it’s genuine. Keep that in mind and retake the test. See if it helps.

  4. a smile is a Smile.

    This line before the test made me chuckle: “Each video clip will take approximately 15 seconds to load on a 56k modem and you can only play each smile once”

  5. Hi! How ya doin’? Glad to see you. How long’s it been? Your looking great! Have you lost weight? How’s the wife and kids? They REALLY look just like you. Really!

    I missed the first time around (8/20) because the facial expression went from neutral to smile to neutral. I think I’m programmed to look at the eyes after the expression to detect deception.

    Got 75% the second time. Scary stuff Maynard.

  6. Spot The Fake Smile


    You got 14 out of 20 correct

    Look at the labels below each image to see which smiles are genuine and which are fake.

    Ticks and crosses show which smiles you got right and wrong.

    Click on the image if you want to see the smile again.


    Charlie Ellingson
    Fat guy who met Kevin in Chicago

  7. I got 16/20. I looked for people who blinked during their smile and it served me fairly well. 😉

    1. And 26 on the eyes. Kinda hard to tell on that one with such terrible 1980’s magazine scans 😛

  8. I also scored 16 of 20,and didn’t play most of the videos either! Btw,the Texas Rangers just won 12 straight games,shutting out the Angels 7 to 0 😉

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