Professor Guy Part of U of M Team Researching Successful Smiles

July 12, 2017

Assistant Professor Stephen Guy is part of a collaborative University of Minnesota research team looking into what makes the perfect smile. Recently reported in Plos One, their study used a computer-animated 3D facial tool to investigate how smiles are perceived.

“A lot of people don’t understand how important their smiles are and how important this aspect of communication we do with each other every day is,” said Guy in a recent article put out by The Guardian.

The U of M team, which includes Nathaniel Helwig from the Department of Psychology and Sofia Lyford-Pike from the Medical School, surveyed over 800 volunteers at the Minnesota State Fair by showing them a virtual face smiling in a range of ways. The volunteers rated how they felt about the smiles using numeric scales based on colloquial understandings of terms like “fake” to “genuine,” and “creepy” to “pleasant.”

The team found that a successful smile fell within an optimal range and there were certain signature traits that people found pleasing.  For example, slightly asymmetrical smiles were more attractive than perfectly symmetrical ones, while wide smiles showing fewer teeth were preferable to wide smiles showing many teeth, which could be perceived as showing “contempt.”

One of the goals of the research is to help people who have experienced facial paralysis rediscover or relearn movements and expressions that might have been lost. Guy used the example of a surgeon helping a patient decide on surgical options that could guide a patient in choosing which smile would be better or worse.

Guy went on to explain that this was really just the beginning of research into this area since the study only focused on the mouth and not the entire face or body language.

“The context of your whole face can be important and, in general, a larger context of what the conversation is, and your body’s disposition can be important too,” Guy goes on to say in The Guardian article.  “Those are important limitations we should look into in the future.”

To dive further into their study, head to The Guardian’s website to read their in-depth article “A winning smile avoids showing too many teeth, researchers say,” or explore the entire study on PLOS ONE’s website.

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