A smile is the most popular expression when people meet. People use a smile when they’re genuinely happy to see someone, or out of courtesy, or even to hide your dislike of a person.
And there’s good reason for that, too: a smile is the most easily recognizable expression. It’s recognized in a fraction of a second, and can be identified further away than any other expression. Plus a smile is the most memorable expression — if you want someone to remember your face, smile at them. And smiling at someone is the easiest way to get them to smile, which makes them feel positive about you and what you have to say, increasing your odds of making a sale or landing a job. Smiles are so critical to our interactions that researchers know it’s important for robots to learn to recognize our smiles.
But with more and more communication being carried out via texts, tweets, and IMs, will the smile fade away? No. In fact, the smile will likely maintain its position as our most-used facial expression, although it will likely change somewhat. As communication has become virtual, so has the smile, and it’s as popular as ever.
The Most Popular Emoji
One of the ways that people have translated their body language into virtual communication is through the use of emoji. Emoji, in case you aren’t familiar with them, are small pictures that can represent many different things. Emoji can be your standard emoticons, albeit with some different variations, or they can be simple symbols, or even some interesting characters. But the most-used emoji tend to be facial expressions, partly because they’re attempting to help fill the gap left by a lack of facial communication, and the most popular facial expressions are smiles.
According to emojitracker, a program that tracks the usage of emoji in tweets, seven of the top ten emoji are expressions, and four of the top ten emoji are smiles.
The most popular emoji, 😂, has been used nearly 1.3 million times on Twitter according to the tracker, more than twice as often as the second-place emoji, ♥. The fourth most popular emoji, 😍, is another smile, and has been used more than half a million times. The fifth most popular emoji, 😒, is the first negative emotion, with about 375,000 uses, barely a fifth of the top two smiles. Other smiles in the top 10 are 😊 at number 6 and ☺ at number 10.
Instagram doesn’t have a similar tracker, but studies have shown that smiles are even more dominant there. Although they cede the top spot to ❤, they have the second, fourth, fifth, and sixth place sewn up. Add in 😉, which is arguably smiling, and they account for half the top ten emoji.
Virtual Smiles Are Real Smiles
What really makes this significant for us is that these virtual smiles aren’t just digital. Our brain actually interprets them as real smiles. Researchers know this because smiles actually trigger a characteristic brain wave pulse. Although it lasts under 200 milliseconds, this pulse, called N170, is highly recognizable.
And researchers have shown that when people see an emoticon, they experience this same characteristic response, N170.
Is Your Smile F2F Ready?
Of course, although virtual smiles are becoming more and more important, your actual smile maintains its vital role for when you meet people in person. If you find that you’re constantly hiding your smile, you keep photoshopping your smile, or avoiding in person meetings and opting for texting and IMs because you’re ashamed of your smile, maybe it’s time to consider a smile makeover.