Is the Meaning Behind a Smile Universal?

by | Dec 21, 2014 | Southfield Dentistry

Hi everyone,

I’m in the business of smiles.  I not only keep them attractive but healthy too.  In our culture a smile is how we gauge a person’s disposition.  It’s seen as a positive gesture by a friendly person to another person.


But other cultures see a smile a bit differently.  Here we look at how smiles differ among cultures, gender, age and species.

In some Southeast Asian cultures, a smile can mask embarrassment or emotional pain.  For example, Vietnamese people may end a sad story with a smile.   In matters of business, Koreans view constant smiling as being pushy.  In Thailand, a smile is perceived as a reaction to any situation.  A smile can signify tension, sadness, happiness, fear, regret or guilt (Adelman, 1993).

In Russia, many people believe smiling at strangers in public is unusual and demonstrates a person’s insincerity.  As discussed in Stanford’s University’s cross-cultural blog, Russian student Ekaterina Vlasenko explains, “that smiles are meant for a close friend or relative, someone they know quite intimately.”  Here in the States we do it without even thinking twice.  It’s viewed as a sign of confidence and a positive attitude. 

Across the gender gap, Dr. Marianne LaFrance, author of  Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex, and Politics, says women smile more than men.   Girls are simply encouraged to smile more, and prodded to smile even when they don’t feel like it.  Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to smile less.  As young boys become socialized, smiling is often seen as too feminine or emotional.  Yet, a smile is an instinctive, unlearned expression when considering that newborns, both boys and girls, flash their first smile between the ages of 4 to 6 weeks.

Older women have a tendency to smile less than younger women.  A recent Orbit Complete study revealed that 69 percent of people found women with smiles more attractive than women who wore make-up and no smile.  I would guess that both of these statements apply to men also!

It gets a little trickier in the animal kingdom.  Every dog smiles and even rats can be made to laugh if you tickle them.  It’s not exactly a news flash, after all Darwin documented animal emotions.  According to Professor Nicholas Dodman of Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, dogs not only smile but laugh too.

For years, many owners claimed that their pets expressed and felt deep emotion.  Science figured it was animal lovers attributing human characteristics upon their beloved companions, otherwise known as anthropomorphism.  But dogs actually make a huffing sound when they’re happy or playing.  When animal behaviorists recorded the laughter and played it back to shelter dogs, the dogs stopped barking and calmly listened to the sounds.

A smile is a genuine response to what makes us happy.  And when you smile you naturally boost your immune system and relieve stress.  At the office of Dr. Mark Langberg, DDS, MAGD, it’s our business to keep your smile healthy and vibrant.  All smiles, and the patients that wear them, deserve the best dental care available.  Call us at 248-356-8790 and let us keep you smiling for all the right reasons.

Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD
Your Southfield Family Dentist
Tel: (248) 356-8790