Why is it harder to smile naturally while taking a photo?

There is a clear difference between a smile while looking at the lens and a smile at something we find really funny. While we have difficulty in former one, we do not have any problems with naturally smiling. Let’s explain why.

Smiling is an act that is somehow not sincere and natural when it is done voluntarily or someone says “camera is here, laugh”. While you can naturally laugh without effort when something funny happens, it is very difficult to do it when someone wants to. Similarly, you have a trouble trying to smile in front of a mirror. Believe me this is not just because of shyness.

A Quick Scientific Explanations

The reason for the difference between naturally smiling and artificial one is that the act of smiling is actually handled by different brain regions. The action we call spontaneously smile is created by the basal ganglia.

Some of these ganglia are located at the lowest base of the cortex. Some of them are located in the mid-brain, which is the upper part of the brain stem. In other words, it is a region between the lower part of the cortex and the upper part of the thalamus.

The thalamus is evolutionarily older and is a sub-cortex region, which is involved in emotional systems. The cortex, on the other hand, is an evolutionarily newer region where thinking and planning play an active role.

How does a natural smile occur?

When we encounter a friendly faces, the emotional message we receive from our friends is directed to the thalamus, which is consciously conveyed without realizing it.

Here, the message that has reached the limbic system is loaded with emotion and meaning, and then transmitted to the basal ganglia. Then basal ganglia govern the facial muscle activity necessary for a natural smile. Or, on the contrary, we prefer not to laugh according to the emotional data. In this chain, the parts of our cortex that are active consciously business were not involved.

Why artificial/fake smile is harder ?

When we look in the mirror or when a friend holding a camera asks us to smile, somehow we cannot do our most wanted natural smile. The verbal request from our friend first goes to the auditory cortex and language center. Then it is understood by the parts of the cortex where thinking activities also take place.

The desire to smile, directed to the voluntary motor cortex, is transmitted to the muscles as action. However, the motor cortex is not capable as the basal ganglia. Moving thousands of tiny muscles in the appropriate order is not as “easy” as it seems.

How was the difference between natural and fake smile found?

All this information is actually derived from brain injured cases. A patient whose right motor cortex is damaged and the left region is paralyzed cannot make a fully artificial smile.

That is to say, only one side of the body, the healthy side, can laugh, the smile is not symmetrical. However, when the same patient sees a friend, they can produce a sincere smile. This indicates that the basal ganglia that are not part of the motor cortex are intact and at work.

A similar situation applies to yawning

Patients with damaged motor cortex and paralysis cannot move voluntarily, but surprisingly, they can stretch their arms back and stretch. This is because the region that directs the stretching of the arms is not the cortex, but the brain stem.

Finally, a similar separation of unconscious limbic system and conscious cortex is seen in Capgras Syndrome disorders. Since the patient’s limbic system and visual cortex disrupt the communication, the patient cannot recognize the friends and family. Unconscious emotional data from loved ones cannot reach the cortex (especially the visual cortex) from the limbic system.

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