Friday, February 15, 2008
Fake Smiles and "Gaydar"
When that clerk flashed you that smile at the store, was it a pleasant and happy one, or the one that he gets paid a low hourly wage to give you as you purchase soda and eggs? Was it sincere or is was it for show?
Facial gestures are one of the cornerstones of animal communication - and of course thus deceit as well. How good a job do we do in smiling convincingly or detecting that "fake smile"? Psychologists have been looking into the question, and this zine by Jackie Martin discusses some of that current work click on the image on the right to get a copy).
In fact, if you want, you can take a online quiz testing your ability to detect fake smiles. Now you'll know the truth behind those grins!
Of course, so much of science is about detecting distinctions, differences, and theorizing what they might be indicating in terms of cause - visible signs and signals of mood, yes, but some also claim of biological nature.
As useful (medical diagnostics), frivolous (phrenology), or dangerously discriminatory (racial profiling) that the reading of visible traits may be, people are always still looking for the next set of correlations that may work as some definitive sign of something.
One example of these popular ideas that scientists are taking seriously (for what purposes, it is unclear) is whether physical characteristics indicate one's sexual preference. Recent studies are looking into things such as the direction of your hair colick to the relative length of your index and ring fingers as possible traits that are associated with different preferences.
This is the topic of the zine to the left "Do You Have Gaydar?" by Catherine Mudd. Perhaps the better question is: Who needs it? Rest assured, form what studies can tell these traits only loosely correlate with sexual preference - as everything else in biology, it is a matter of probabilities NOT certainties.