Posted by: fireweaver | August 9, 2007

threats & compromises

there’s a super nifty little test over at the BBC right now, where you watch 20 brief videos of people smiling and then rate whether or not it was a real or a faked grin.  head on over & take your quiz, and get back to me on how clever you are.  i”m abysmal at it, with only 12/20 judged correctly.

in interacting with my monkey & ape pals, i can tell you there’s a whole handful of facial gestures that primates instinctively do.  most monks will peel their lips tensely back and bare their teeth at you in a threat gesture much like a dog’s snarl, only silent.  but the more submissive ones, the animals that don’t want to pick a fight with you, will often sloppily (adorably) smack their lips at you/each other, in a gesture i’ve heard interpreted as something to the effect of “look how my mouth’s all floppy, totally not going to attack anyone here.”  just as interestingly, though, is how people gestures are wildly misinterpreted by our monkeys.  a full-faced, eye-contact-making glance, with an open, friendly smile (the exact way that fascinated people at the zoo would look at them) is a full-on promise for a throw-down to a macaque.  you learn pretty quickly when working with these guys to never stare at them, preferentially not even look directly at them with both eyes, and try like hell to not smile even when they’re doing something cute.  the apes, though, have a range of smiley gestures from car-salesman fake to out-and-out laughter.  they get all confused by our attempts to treat them like monkeys and not meet their eyes.

according to that BBC thing, “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.”  damn evolutionary psychology making me all easily confused.



  1. Well, I did a little bit better than you, scoring 16/20… I tended to watch the eyes for clues, which I think bettered the score. As I smile at *everything* for a defense mechanism, I guess I’m more used to expecting people to fake it? (and yeah, the ones I got wrong were real smiles that I thought were fakes).

  2. I got 14. I rule!

  3. Don’t feel bad, Chelle. I only got 12/20, too. I even had co-worker help!

  4. all this proves to me is that i’m far better off working with my monkey pals than wacky old people any day.

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