Smiling? You Can Hear It in the Voice

Smiling? You Can Hear It in the Voice

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

The Duchenne Smile

The Duchenne Smile

Jan. 3, 2008 — Smiling
affects how we speak, to the point that listeners can actually identify
the type of smile based on sound alone, according to a new study that
also determined some people have "smilier" voices overall than others.

The research adds to the growing body of evidence that smiling and
other expressions pack a strong informational punch and may even impact
us on a subliminal level.

"When we listen to people speaking,
we may be picking up on all sorts of cues, even unconsciously, which
may help us interpret the speaker," lead author Amy Drahota told
Discovery News.

Drahota, a research fellow in the School of Health Sciences and Social Work at the University of Portsmouth,
and colleagues Alan Costall and Vasudevi Reddy recorded volunteers as
they went through a rather silly interview that required them to utter
the words, "I do in the summer" — no matter the question.

Examples of questions included, "Do you ever sunbathe?" and, "Do you go skinny dipping?"

"The question schedule was deliberately built up to begin serious
and then become gradually more amusing and strange, and potentially
slightly embarrassing," Drahota explained.

"All the while the speakers were ‘admitting’ what they do in the
summer — even if it wasn’t true — and additionally the interview must
have seemed most peculiar to the speakers and this would have made them

The researchers videotaped the volunteers and then categorized their smile types.
It’s believed that some 50 different types of smiles exist, ranging
from triumphant ones to those that convey bitterness. For the purposes
of this study, however, the scientists focused on four types.

Drahota described the first as an open smile "in which the lips are
drawn back, the cheeks are raised and crows-feet wrinkles appear around
the eyes." Technically this is called a Duchenne smile, which may be
the truest and most intense of all.

The second smile type is like the Duchenne, only minus the "smiley
eyes." The third is a suppressed smile, "where the speaker is trying to
hide their smile by pulling their lips in or down as they speak."
Finally, they denoted times when the speakers weren’t smiling at all.

The audio for the interviews was then played back to another group
of test subjects. Even without seeing the speakers, the listeners were
usually able to identify the type of smile the speaker made as he or
she went through the wacky interview.

The findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Speech Communication.

Drahota and her team suspect our smile-sense has to do with changes in pitch.


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