This is another installment in the series about Body Language. This week, the focus is the mouth. The mouth is an expressive indicator of mood and thoughts. It is fundamental to reading body language. Many know chewing the lip can be an indication that the individual is experiencing uncertainty, anxiety, or worry. I find that chewing your lip is an action I see a lot in books since it is an obvious sign of distress.
Placing your hand over your mouth can be polite if yawning or coughing. But it can also be a “cover” to hide your emotional reaction. The hand might hide a smile, smirk, or disapproval—an expression that the person might otherwise be unable to stop but still not want anyone to see.
Smiling is one of the most complex issues to read. There are fake smiles and genuine ones. But how do you tell the difference?
The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease describes the first recorded scientific studies into smiling performed by nineteenth century French scientist Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne. He used electrodiagnostics and electrical stimulation to differentiate a real smile from one that is not. He discovered that the smile is controlled by two sets of muscles—the zygomatic major muscles and the orbicularis oculi. The zygomatic major pull the mouth back to show the teeth and enlarge the cheeks. The orbicularis oculi narrow the eyes and cause what’s commonly referred to as “crow’s feet.”
Zygomatic major muscles, which run down the side of the face and are attached at the corners of the mouth, are consciously controlled. Therefore, they are the muscles used to produce false smiles that attempt to create the appearance of being friendly or subordinate. Conversely, the orbicularis oculi, next to the eyes, are independent and reveal a real smile. One sign of a sincere smile are wrinkle lines beside the eyes. This is the reason that a smile might be described in a book as “not reaching the eyes” since an insincere smile doesn’t engage the orbicularis oculi muscles.
The next time someone smiles at you, look at what part of the face is engaged to discover true intent. And if they cover their mouth while doing it, beware. It may not be the friendly conversation it appears to be on the surface.