Behrend Graduate Examines the Science of False Smiles

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A smiling man has to be happy, right? Not exactly.

Behrend graduate M. Ehsan Hoque, a Ph.D. student in the MIT Media Lab, found that nine of every 10 people presented with a task that caused frustration – in this case, people who completed a detailed online form, only to have the information deleted when they pressed “submit” – smiled while processing the emotion.

It’s a different kind of smile: Happy smiles build gradually, Hoque found. Frustrated ones appear quickly but soon fade.

In a photograph, however, it can be almost impossible to determine which mood caused the smile.

Hoque’s goal with the study was to help people better interpret facial expressions – a common problem for those with autism. His findings, which were published in “IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing,” also could help programmers design computers that can better read and respond to human emotion.

Hoque explains the project in this video: