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"Spot the Fake Smile" Quiz


smile10.jpgCan you see the difference between a fake and a genuine smile? This small test on the BBC Science and Nature website lets you test yourself with 20 different persons smiling. This is not just a fun psychology test - for an animator it's a little gem of reference material.

When you complete this test, you have 20 video clips of both fake and genuine smiles. This can help you make your characters' facial morphs more realistic and true to life. Also, if it is your intent to have your characters do fake smiles, there is of course reference for that as well.

Take the test here!

**WARNING: Spoilers below**

The whole research behind the test is explained in more detail when you finish the test:

Most people are surprisingly bad at spotting fake smiles. 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.

Although fake smiles often look very similar to genuine smiles, they are actually slightly different, because they are brought about by different muscles, which are controlled by different parts of the brain.

Fake smiles can be performed at will, because the brain signals that create them come from the conscious part of the brain and prompt the zygomaticus major muscles in the cheeks to contract. These are the muscles that pull the corners of the mouth outwards.

Genuine smiles, on the other hand, are generated by the unconscious brain, so are automatic. When people feel pleasure, signals pass through the part of the brain that processes emotion. As well as making the mouth muscles move, the muscles that raise the cheeks – the orbicularis oculi and the pars orbitalis – also contract, making the eyes crease up, and the eyebrows dip slightly.

Lines around the eyes do sometimes appear in intense fake smiles, and the cheeks may bunch up, making it look as if the eyes are contracting and the smile is genuine. But there are a few key signs that distinguish these smiles from real ones. For example, when a smile is genuine, the eye cover fold - the fleshy part of the eye between the eyebrow and the eyelid - moves downwards and the end of the eyebrows dip slightly.

Scientists distinguish between genuine and fake smiles by using a coding system called the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), which was devised by Professor Paul Ekman of the University of California and Dr Wallace V. Friesen of the University of Kentucky.

About the Author

Mathias Pedersen

Read more about Mathias Pedersen (The M.h.p.e.) at


  1. It's a very interesting test, and you're right. It does look very handy for animation!

    I got 15/20 incidentally

  2. 13 out of 20

    I don't know, they all seemed kinda fake to me since the test consists of spontaneous 3-second smiles. I think some of the ones they say were genuine weren't truly genuine.

    But an interesting test. Good stuff to pay attention to when you're animating.

  3. 18 out of 20! (seriously!)

    Look at the eyes, and look for involuntary movements. (Like laughing shoulders, for example)

    Still, since most people can't tell the difference, what's the point in animating them correctly?

    (Okay okay, I was only joking, don't flame me!)

  4. Do the test persons know themselfs if their laugh is real or fake?
    Or did they film 20 people and then used the Ekman & Friesen method to prove their point?

    Maybe I'm just depressed because I only got 9 out of 20.

    @freed: Don't all actors have a fake smile by default thus making this the "real" movie smile?

  5. I got 16/20 before eading the clue or the posts here. Yes, eyes and shoulders were the clue. Interesting. Thanx for the link.

  6. Just a technical side node.

    Especially the news from Matthias (thanks for the effort posting them), there you can't click on the little image and get to see a fullsize version of it. Maybe you need to include the image in a different way so it works.


  7. MikeHart: It was meant to be that way. The image isn't that big, so it doesn't make sense to see it in higher resolution. Take the test if you want to see it as big as it can be.

    But thanks for the note anyways. :)

  8. 15/20 for me
    I actually looked at the mouth most. To me the best clue was when people suddently stopped smiling.
    Interesting test. And i actually find it nice that they are not all "top models" or good looking actors but people just like you and i: it makes it more realistic.

  9. 11 out of 20...
    Eyes for me too...

    Oddly enough, if you look closely at some of the eyes you can see them suddenly, look off to one side, giving me the impression that they where thinking 'Why am I doing this...'

  10. Joeri said : Don't all actors have a fake smile by default thus making this the "real" movie smile?

    I haven't done the test yet, but I think exactly the same.

    If the fake smile of an actor is real enough, the difference is perhaps too small to be taken in account in animation, or it is because the actor knows well the difference and contracts all the muscles involved in a real smile.

    I don't mean that there is no difference, but if it can be simulated by most actors, using actors as examples for animating may be better than looking at ourselves in a mirror.

  11. 15/20 :)

    i dont think many of them where truely genuine, because after all, they where ASKED to smile, therefor it can't be a 100% truley smiles I think..

  12. ....I err, mis interrupted what it meant by real and fake... my score reflected this.

    I thought it meant 'real and fake' as in 'real and CG' LOL.

    Oh well.

    Could someone with some 'connections' please try and hook us all up with a copy these short smiling clips... I 'think' (read:hope) I speak for all of us when I say it would be an awesome collection of reference images for how the face moves.

  13. i got 15/20 by looking at the eyes and how the bridge of the nose moved.

    i missed 3 genuine smiles and two fake smiles.

    My Methodology (may or may not work): When a smile is genuine, the whole topology of the face changes slightly. So I look where it should change very little and see if the smile changed that area. Another area that might work is the ears.

  14. wow, i got the first 8 correct then all wrong after,
    I guess this says more about my short attention span than my "smile detection ability".

  15. wow - I was optimistic but definately not confident - I'm meant to have really bad social skills as I have slight asperger's syndrome... I got 14/20 - the first was wrong because I thought you could play them more than once and the others were the ones I changed my mind with - just goes to show - first choice is always best lol!! I think the same as some others on here - most are sort of fake anyway - after all - who can do a real smile on camera if they know they're being filmed lol!! I guess if you find something funny you're more likely to be able to smile realistically though whether you've been asked to or not... but maybe there are some kinds of smiles not taken into account here - such as smiles caused by things that aren't actually funny as in humourous (i.e. love, lust, supportive smiles, etc etc...). Just my thoughts!
    -epat. :)

  16. 15/20 it was the eyes. the ones i got wrong were the ones i thougt were fake, but were actually real. im thinking the ones i called fake were actually fake. because they were being filmed and some may have by scientific standards passed a real smile, but im betting they werent real just by the rest of their body language and the feeling they gave off. because i know people can fake a smiles, i do all the time and i just looked in a mirror and i had all the requirements of a real smile.

    or maybe im just being upset about getting 5 wrong. well whatever the truth is, this was fun!

  17. Roubal:
    Joeri said : Don't all actors have a fake smile by default thus making this the "real" movie smile?

    I haven't done the test yet, but I think exactly the same.

    If the fake smile of an actor is real enough, the difference is perhaps too small to be taken in account in animation, or it is because the actor knows well the difference and contracts all the muscles involved in a real smile.

    I don't mean that there is no difference, but if it can be simulated by most actors, using actors as examples for animating may be better than looking at ourselves in a mirror.

    --- My answer:

    Okay, I'm an actress. So, I hope this'll help... The muscles in the top of the face, just as the bottom, are voluntary. You just have to think about making the movements when it's fake, as opposed to genuine.

    As for my score: 15/20... some of those genuine smiles didn't do the eye deal! Gah... It was the eyes though. I didn't get one faker wrong, though! Lol... I got 75% correct, so I consider myself socially okay. I may not be able to se smiles the best, but I can make them! Oh, and I put almost all the way up for optimal outlook on life but 2n lowest on confidence... so I think I did well, plus I went through it really fast.

    But who knows, I could just be making up excuses to make myselfeel better. TT__TT Lol.

  18. Nice test. Thanks for putting it up here Mathias.

    I got 18/20, and that was almost purely by concentrating on the eyes.

    I recently read some research somewhere that proved that there are cultural differences in the way we look at faces. The summarised conclusion was that people from western cultures concentrate more on the mouth area when looking at faces, and eastern/asian cultures concentrate more on the eye area of the face.

    Since a lot of people who have posted here with high scores have indicated that the eyes were an important deciding factor, I wonder if on a large-scale statistical level, people from western cultures are less likely to spot a fake smile. A group like ours may not be the best test group because we're all involved in the visual arts at various levels and maybe we are more tuned to these things. But in the general population, perhaps such a corelation can be found.

    Anthropology and cultural anthropology is just plain fascinating.

  19. 16/20 - eyes definitely

    @Samir: "Research" on Slashdot? About the different types of Smilies ( ^^ vs. :) )?

  20. what if an actor is truly happy and enjoying his part?

    do I get extra credit if I genuinely smiled at some of those subjects' smiles?

    Did you notice how different each face was?? especially the one long-haired guy's(?) forehead - when I saw him I yelled out "Thor!"

  21. Jacob Randal on

    Yes the eyes really do say a lot! I got 18/20. Thor was scary.... Now how about an angry face test?

  22. I got 19/20 - the only one I got wrong was the middle-aged blond woman- she had a strange smile that got me doubting...
    I guess I did better than I thought. My primary clue was the eyes, also in some cases the smile seemed to "stop" too soon.

  23. 19/20

    My dad once taught me this, just look at the creases around the eye, if somebody smiles and they get wrinkles around the eyes then it is genuine.

    I only missted one because i missed it and couldn't play it again (note: I dont say this to brag, all in all this is like the only test like this I have scored well on.)

  24. 19 out of 20!

    I knew to look at the eyes too, but I was so surprised I did so well on the test. Recently I read a link off a Slashdot story how different cultures use different emoticons. Here in the West (well...Texas, that's fairly West, I think?) we use emoticons like :-) and :-( and so on because we tend to look at the mouth to gague emotion. From this article, I understand that in Asia emoticons are entirely different, (^_^)is a happy face and (;_;) is a sad face.

    I've had Chinese friends that abbreviate the happy face to ^^ but on the whole I had to figure out by context what was meant by these truncated emoticons.

    here's the source:

  25. @ Joeri

    No, good actors smile genuinely. They really feel glad or have to laugh. Really good acting comes from within and the body more or less does the rest. It's not that hard to really feel things by concentrating the right way.

  26. I got a 20/2o the key is the eyes the eyes explain everything ! if u look into someones eyes u can most likley tell if their happy or not

  27. No idea how I stumbled on this so long after it was first posted....

    Very informative though. I guess it's not so much about what is real, but what people think is real.


    A good reference source for animation. It seems most of the people who smiled for real finished their smiles slowly, had more incidental movement of the body and head and had more pronounced movement of the eyes. I guess it means that if you want your characters to smile then don't be lazy. ;)

  28. AntonOfTheNorth on

    Actually, as an actor, the trick to acting is allowing your smile to be real.

    What we create is a condition that releases a smile. We don't consider ourselves 'faking' a smile. We chose for the moment to allow us to smile.

    Smiling is a release, not a construct. (in case that helps animators any)

    And thanks for the link and everyone's posts. Made me smile. (still smiling actually)

    Oh and 15/20 for me too!


  29. i got 19/20 !! :) the test was very intriguing ; i found the easiest way to tell the smiles apart was the eyes & the cheeks.
    also, i used this test for my science fair project this year. my project was "Which gender is better at determining genuine & fake smiles" the project went very well thanks to the test :)

  30. It doesn't work anymore. Dips away after the third disingenuous smile. First seems genuine, next two disingenuous, and then nothing, an error. Shame.

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