8 Types of Smiles and What They Mean

smiling, body language

What makes you feel good when you’re meeting someone for the first time? A smile of course. It’s the one thing which has the power to make you feel warm and comfortable, the fuel behind the conversation. The smile is proof that unspoken messages are powerful, as with just a smile you can ignite a host of emotions and interactions.

Everyone likes a full-blown smile

The full-blown smile is the most natural of all, where you’d unconsciously open up your mouth into a silent laugh. The muscles around your eyes crease and crinkle as the teeth are displayed, with the sides of your lips stretching towards the tip of your ears. It’s that look you see on a little girl’s face when she’s just been given a large pink lollipop.

Everyone likes seeing that full-blown smile as it signifies happiness from the bottom of the heart.

The hidden meanings of a smile

But did you know if the full-blown smile is accompanied by the person’s head going slightly in, it means he / she is humble? And if the person is smiling broadly and the head has a backward tilt, the person is both pleased and proud? These small gestures might escape the regular person, but when you’re aware of the underlying mechanics, you’ll realise how easy it actually is to read a person’s smile clearly.

Learn to read the message behind the smiles

The human brain has two circuits for controlling smiles – The cerebral cortex controls the conscious smile while the deep, primitive brain structure handles the expression of emotions.

You’re looking for the expression of emotions that just about escaped their cerebral cortex’s ability to conceal it.

The 8 Types of Smiles

smile, happiness

1. The Drop-Jaw Smile

The drop-jaw smile is an exaggeration due to the jaw being lowered. This type of smile is commonly seen among public figures when giving speeches or at press conferences. Those public figures include politician and celebrities, who understand the importance of laughter.

With such an expression, they try to draw positive impulses from the audience as letting the jaw drop gives the impression of playfulness and amusement. By applying the drop-jaw smile, you are able to very quickly eliminate the first-line protective barrier between individuals.

smile, happiness

2. The Turn-Away Smile

Another extension of this technique to win over people quickly is the turn-away smile – as the individual also comes across as juvenile, playful and creative. It is actually a hybrid expression where the smile signals welcome, whereas the motion of turning away gives the signal of avoidance.

To illustrate, most men cannot resist if a women smiles coyly in their directions. Also, when a female gives the turn-away smile, it invokes parental male feelings, making men want to protect and care for the female.

Some actresses are quite adept at using this technique to captivate the hearts of fans. And as many public speakers have realised, the turn-away smile also makes you seem younger and attractively secretive. Even renowned biologist Charles Darwin had noted how well the turn-away smile invokes similar reactions in animals.

smile, happiness, jessica alba

3. The Closed-Lip Smile

When the teeth aren’t displayed, this is known as the closed-lip smile. Playful children and politicians always show this gesture, which gives signal that the person is hiding something.

If your friend gives you the closed-lip smile, the clear message is that although your friend is happy chatting with you, he is not telling you everything. He reserves some information that he does not feel comfortable sharing with you.

4. The Tight-Lipped Smile obama, smile, happiness

When the tips of the lips are stretched without the teeth exposed, such a smile shows the harbouring of a secret, concealment of thoughts and the restraining of attitudes. While women interpret the tight-lipped smile as a sign of rejection, it also happens to be a favourite expression among females.

The tight-lipped smile is often shown by women who don’t want to reveal any information and would rather remain silent instead. For example, if you ask for the age, a lot of women would simply respond with a tight-lipped smile without giving any answer.

The tight-lipped smile also evokes mystery and can be often seen in magazine pictures of successful businessmen. The picture clearly reveals they aren’t disclosing any of their key secrets, sharing in the interview only the broad principles for success.


 5. The Lopsided Smile

Also known as the twisted smile, it appears when one side of the lip moves upwards and the other side slants down – causing the mouth to move in opposite directions and ending up in what seems to be a twist.

This smile is interpreted as expressing mixed emotions. The side of mouth slanted downwards shows a person with negative emotions such as sadness and anxiety, contrasted by the upward tilt which says that person is non-threatening nor angry.

The smile also gives the interpretation of “yes” to a certain extent while also conveying the message of “better not”. To sum up, the lopsided smile signals various messages that can range from sarcasm or embarrassment to irony.

6. The Forced Smile

A forced smile looks manufactured and unnatural. We need more than pulled-back lips, through the use of a muscle called risorius to show our teeth, to convince someone we are happy and exuding a positive emotion.

This can be detected especially when eyes are not engaged with mouth – resulting in the eyes looking dull or listless. The fake smile gives the impression that we do not mean what we are saying – and it evokes a response of dislike or will damage social bonding.

7. The Genuine Smile

In contrast, genuine smiles encourage others to smile back and convey an honest emotion because when we are smiling, we feel happier and this happiness is communicated to others.

To be able to tell the difference, consider the reaction when we find something funny. The smile is unconscious because our orbicularis oculi (skin around the eyes) crinkles up. A real smile appears primarily because of the action of two muscles – the zygomaticus major, which stretches from the corner of the mouth to the cheekbone, and the orbicularis oculi.

8. The Sneer

The action for the sneer is caused when the buccinators muscles (on the sides of the face) contract to draw the lip corners sideward toward the ears and produce a sneering dimple in the check. The expression is obvious and gives clear sarcastic signals.

The sneer is an act of contempt, it shows someone being disrespectful and reflects the lack of caring and empathy on the part of the person doing the sneering. During police interviews, for example, the suspect would sneer upon realising the police didn’t know the full details of the crime.

Edited by: The HealthWorks Team
Adapted from: “When a smile is far more” by Dr Leow Chee Seng, Fellow of Human Behaviour Academy

1 thought on “8 Types of Smiles and What They Mean”

  1. Daren Looney

    I have always had a tight lipped smile and it is because I have messed up teeth that I am ashamed of and will probably never be able to afford but I am a genuine and honest person and not sinister in anyway but no mention of someone like me in the article

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