MIT Researchers Decode Your Smile

Think that's good news? Liar.

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Beware of your smile: it may betray you. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a way to discern the sincerity—and level of frustration—associated with your grin.

By analyzing measurements of the subtle differences between a smile generated by frustration and one born out of actual happiness, the computer program has so far shown a better success rate than human observers in figuring out the emotional state of their subjects.

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Ehsan Hoque, Rosalind Picard and Daniel McDuff published a paper on the subject, saying the goal is to “help people with face-to-face communication.”

To gain real smile footage, researchers recorded their subjects at the MIT Media Lab. After being asked to feign frustration—most people didn’t smile then—the project gave them something to really be frustrated about. The subjects filled out an online survey, which completely deleted when they tried to submit it. At that point, 90 percent of the folks smiled out of frustration, which was recorded. That was juxtaposed against a smile elicited from delight, using cute babies (kittens would have worked too, we think) to cue the lip turning.

It turns out the anatomy of  smiles differs too, even while the full smile doesn’t show much differentiation. A real smile gradually builds, whereas one born of frustration flashes and then fades.

The researchers say that understanding a person’s smile can help with everything from personal communication (not all smiles mean happiness, for example) to marketing and even, possibly, eventually allowing computers to accurately gauge the moods of people.

Is nothing secret anymore?

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