The Duchenne Smile – Smiling with your eyes.

Smiling is a crucially important form of communication in human beings, (and in other animals in their way), but during recent months where society has needed to wear face masks, (now compulsory in a variety of community and social settings); many people have struggled with being able to express themselves normally while wearing a face covering.

What exactly is a ‘Duchenne’ smile though?  This is the expression which involves not only the mouth, but the muscles around the eyes making the corners of your eyes wrinkle and ‘sparkle’.  It’s an authentic and natural expression that conveys happiness, empathy, excitement and calmness.  It shows people that you are genuine, engaged, ready to listen, happy to be with them, full of gratitude – it’s a highly positive bit of communicative kit!  It’s generally supposed to be the sort of smile that cannot be forced and while a normal smile doesn’t mean it’s any less genuine, it is generally considered to be more of an expression of politeness.

Having limited opportunity to express a smile has had great impact on large swathes of the population, many of whom find not being able to communicate a smile to a shop keeper, a fellow companion, or a co-worker has been particularly tough, at a time when people feel the need more than ever to connect positively with people around them.

Even our four legged friends depend on facial cues and not just from other dogs; studies have shown that the domestic dog is able to recognise positive facial expressions in humans, so in some cases, they too have found adjusting to people wearing face masks difficult to navigate.  Face masks can make it tricky for some dogs to read your facial expression and this, coupled with a more muffled tone of voice from behind a cloth mask,  confusion and even fear can arise in some dogs, particularly when meeting strangers or veterinary staff wearing face masks.  (We will talk more in depth about this, and how you can help your dog if he is anxious about facemasks, in a forthcoming article).

However, according to Daryl Efron a pediatrician from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia – face masks don’t necessarily hinder the wearer’s ability to project facial expression as much as you might think – and he should know; he’s been wearing one for thirty years and understands the impact they can have on worried young patients.  He’s made it his business in the hospital setting not to let face masks get in the way of effective and positive communication with anxious young children and their parents.

As Daryl explains, in the Duchenne smile you smile with your eyes and this can be seen even from behind the obstruction of a face mask.  By smiling widely enough, the whole face lights up and your eyes sparkle, he explains – so by exaggerating your facial expressions it is still possible for people to see that you are smiling.  Along with this, Daryl suggests using your brow, (raising eyebrows) tilting your head, or nodding to make it clearer to the other person that you are attentive and listening.

Daryl further suggests that, as well as maintaining eye contact, you can also use more flamboyant body gestures; using hands and arms to express and convey clearer meaning and a sense of closer connection.  Rightly so, Daryl points out that with so much anxiety in the world at the moment, it is critical for people to be thoughtful in their exchanges so that communicating with others in a positive way is always the utmost aim.