May 26, 2011

Accurate fake smile detecting collectivist Chinese

Random bit of knowledge from the paper:
In Eastern cultures, especially China, “one must NOT show ones' teeth when smiling” is a strict rule of discipline for women that has lasted thousands of years, ever since the Tang Dynasty (so the Mona Lisa's smile could also have been appreciated by ancient Chinese). Ancient Chinese women even used adornments around the mouth (e.g., fake dimples) to compensate for the lack of emotional information conveyed by the mouth during their closed-mouth smiles. A good example of such an historic and prevalent influence of cultural value on the role of the mouth in smiles can be illustrated by contrasting the smile emoticons used on the Internet by Easterners and Westerners. In common Western smile emoticons such as :-) or :), the mouth is exaggerated with a crimped line whereas the eyes are simplified as two dots. As a contrast, Japanese use smile emoticons with a simplified mouth but crimped eyes, e.g., (ʌ.ʌ) or (ʌ_ʌ) [16], [17], [18]. Chinese, especially females, go even further by not only adopting simplified mouth and crimped eyes, but also inusing them with the ancient tradition of attaching fake dimples, e.g., (*ʌ_ʌ*), ( = ʌ_ʌ = ), or (@ʌ_ʌ@) [19].
I think the distinction between Western and Eastern here may not accurately capture the temporal dynamics of this process. If one looks back at Western art -the "Mona Lisa example is apt- I think one would be hard to find examples of the big bright smile that seems to be favored in much of Western culture today.

Indeed, when I was collecting pictures for my "women from the 40s vs. women from the 2000s facial composites", I noticed how difficult it was to find pictures of the modern women that did not adopt the typical wide smile. I don't remember ever seeing an ancient Greek depiction of a modern-type smile, and the Greek meidiama was a decidedly closed-mouth affair, with the occasional depiction of satyrs slightly deviating towards a more open-mouth smile, but of a malevolent rather than pleasant bent.

Going back to the East Asian smile, this picture of an anime character seems to match the emoticon quite well, also making it obvious why "the eyes have it" when it comes to accurate detection of smiling:

PLoS ONE 6(5): e19903. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019903

Eyes Are Windows to the Chinese Soul: Evidence from the Detection of Real and Fake Smiles

Xiaoqin Mai et al.

How do people interpret the meaning of a smile? Previous studies with Westerners have found that both the eyes and the mouth are crucial in identifying and interpreting smiles, yet less is known about Easterners. Here we reported that when asking the Chinese to judge the Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiles as either real or fake, their accuracy and sensitivity were negatively correlated with their individualism scores but positively correlated with their collectivism scores. However, such correlations were found only for participants who stated the eyes to be the most useful references, but not for those who favored the mouth. Moreover, participants who favored the eyes were more accurate and sensitive than those who favored the mouth. Our results thus indicate that Chinese who follow the typical Eastern decoding process of using the eyes as diagnostic cues to identify and interpret others' facial expressions and social intentions, are particularly accurate and sensitive, the more they self-report greater collectivistic and lower individualistic values.



Onur Dincer said...

ʌ_ʌ means smiling?! I've been wondering about the meaning of ʌ_ʌ I've encountered in some East Asian websites or in the comments of some East Asians and it has never occurred to me that it denoted smiling. Culturally I am so conditioned to associate smiling with mouth that no other part of the face comes immediately to my mind when symbolizing smiling.

Hector said...

This paper is pure garbage. Another Chinese attempt at claiming that all other East Asian cultures are trivial variations of theirs.
I checked Korean websites and smile emoticon is :))
As far as I know showing teeth when smiling is quite OK in Korea. Many even show gum as well.

Fanty said...


I actually read something similiar before (1 year ago maybe).

Europeans smiling with mouth and East Asians with eyes.

But then, why is China called the "land of eternal smiling". Everyone smiling and beeing happy all the time.

How could Europeans get this impression while visiting East Asia, if they arent able to recognize a East Asian smile in the first place?

Samequeen said...

My grandmother didn't allow me to laugh loudly, I nice girl didn't. And she also taught me to say "sipp" so I kept my mouth closed, and it looked nice.

To smile then it was necessary to smile with the eyes, if I smiled only with my mouth I didn't look honest, I looked cold. A cold smile was a disgrace.

I'm from northern Scandinavia.

Roy said...

@ Fanty Thailand is the "Land of Smiles" is it not?

Fanty said...

" Thailand is the "Land of Smiles" is it not?"

Thailand picked up that term for a tourism capaign.

There is an Germa Opera from 1929 named "Land des Lächelns" (country of smiling), that actually plays in Peking of the year 1912.

Also, if I google that term (at least in German language), I find it refering to Thailand, China and Japan.

And a lot of claims that Asians in General (southasians aswell) would apear permanently happy and light while Europeans apear to be unhappy and angry all the time.

Fanty said...


Maybe one thinks of stuff like this: