Is he, or isn’t he?!

Anyone old enough to remember ‘Sunny Smiles’, the practice of selling small photographs of happy, smiling children as a fund raiser for charity? Incredibly popular in its time and no longer ‘a thing’, photographs and images of smiling children and adults provoke the same mirrored response in most humans – another smile!

Seems that we are still exploring the psychology and anatomy of smiling, according to recent research into the behaviours of babies from birth onwards. The universal signal of positivity and ‘feelgood’ has new parents eagerly scanning infant faces for the ‘first smile’ and when spotted and shared prolifically on social media, can receive the kickback of others suggesting that the smile is only a reflex, rather than a genuine indicator of joy!

New research, cited by Emese Nagy, Reader of Psychology, University of Dundee, is beginning to indicate that new-born babies are able to ‘mirror’ smiles as early as in the first few hours of life and that ‘authentic’ smiles (ones in which the mouth is pulled to the side and upward and involving the nerves and muscles around the eyes) and showing emotional responses to pleasure, feeling comfortable, being held or stroked are evident as early as 24 hours after birth. Researchers have also noted evidence of some babies moving their eyebrows and upper cheek muscles before smiling, potentially demonstrating that they have focused their gaze and intend to smile.

Research also suggests (as if we didn’t know!) that babies quickly learn to use the powerful impact that smiling has on adults to regulate the behaviours of parents and caregivers! Smiling at an adult and making eye contact will usually engage the adult and result in a reciprocal smile. Result on both sides!

Much of the research is at an early stage and more complex and longitudinal studies are required to validate early findings. However, one fact remains, that smiling is a language understood by all cultures and needs no interpretation in order to connect, whether human or emoji generated!

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