I just made a cabbage and carrot curry so spicy that it took me about 25 minutes to eat one bowl. Between bites sand wiping my face off on my shirt, I watched a TED presentation on smiling. The presentation wasn't that interesting and kind of scratched me the wrong way, like so many TED talks do. Does this guy really deserve a standing ovation for taking seven minutes to tell us that people who smile more are longer-lived and better liked than people who smile less?
Anyway, at the end of it, I still hadn't finished my meal, so I perused the comments section and found an interesting link: Spot the Fake Smile, a test/experiment where you can gauge your ability to guess whether a given smile is genuine or faked.
Before you start trying to interpret the smiles, the test asks you: is your general worldview optimistic (1) or pessimistic (7)? How confident are you in your ability to judge correctly - low (1) to high (7)? After some debate, I answered 6 (pretty pessimistic) on the first and 5 (slightly confident) on the second. But then, I started thinking. What sort of statistics are they keeping these numbers for? Are they figuring out for themselves whether self-identified optimists or pessimists are better at interpreting faces? If so, I figured, pessimists would probably be worse. They're more wrapped up in their own problems, less likely to trust others, and less likely to see good things when they're there. I then guessed that I would get something like a 10 - i.e., as good as guessing - on the test.
To my surprise: "You got 18 out of 20 correct."
1) Most of the samples were fakes, so that my tendency to identify smiles as fakes was vindicated by the test's lack of balance. (Information provided after the test proved that this was not the case, though I won't tell you which, lest it interfere with your results).
2) My pessimism, agoraphobia, and constant eerie feeling that this or that person is a sham have some basis in reality.
3) Cumin, mustard seeds, ginger, cabbage, carrots, chili peppers, onions, or some combination thereof, greatly increases your ability to spot fakes.
4) Maybe optimists are better at picking out fake smiles, and I'm actually an optimist who just thinks he's a pessimist. Is there a word for this?
An interesting tidbit that comes up after the test:
"Most people are surprisingly bad at spotting fake smiles [I'd love to know what the average score is]. One possible explanation for this is that it may be easier for people to get along if they don't always know what others are really feeling.'
Amen to that!