In 1924 a particularly sadistic grad student lured an assortment of fellow pupils, teachers and psychology patients into a room at the University of Minnesota.

Carney Landis wanted to know if certain experiences, such as pain or shock, always elicited the same facial expressions.

To put his subjects at ease, he had redecorated by concealing lab equipment, draping cloth over windows and hanging paintings on the walls.

Landis sat his subjects in a chair and painted lines on their faces so that he could better observe the grimaces.

It was time to begin the torture.

Over the course of three hours, Landis repeatedly photographed his subjects while they were subjected to a series of bizarre and unpleasant pranks, including placing fireworks under their seats and electrocuting their hands while they felt around in a bucket of slimy frogs.

The climax came when he fetched a live white rat on a tray and asked them to cut off its head with a butcher’s knife.

Landis’ methods were undoubtedly unethical, and one of his test subjects was a 13-year-old boy.

The most uneasy revelation he discovered was that even during the most violent tasks, the most common reaction wasn’t to cry or rage – it was to smile.

“So far as this experiment goes I have found no expression other than a smile, which was present in enough photographs to be considered as typical of any situation.”

– Carney Landis’ notes

Genuine, happy smiles are like a reward when we’ve done something helpful to our survival.

The ‘non-enjoyment’ smiles are less about what you’re feeling inside and more about what you want to signal to others; some signal that we’re non-threatening and cooperative, while others have evolved to let others know, without aggression, that we’re superior to them in the present interaction.

Out of a total of nineteen different smiles in our catalogue, only six occur when we’re having a good time.

The rest are signals of being in pain, embarrassed, uncomfortable, horrified and even miserable.

A smile can also mean anger, incredulity, contempt, and signal that we’re lying or that we’ve lost.

1. Duchenne smile

The Duchenne smile is long and intense.

A Duchenne smile is the one that reaches your eyes, making the corners wrinkle up with crow’s feet. It’s the smile most of us recognize as the most authentic expression of happiness.

2. Fake smile

A Duchenne smile is easily faked as most of us get a lot of practice.

Smiles tend to accompany greetings and we’re used to politely lying about our true feelings (saying we’re fine when we’re not) with a smile fixed on our faces.

Judged by facial expressions alone, people are judged as most truthful when they are lying.

If you haven’t seen your wife smile at a traffic cop, you haven’t seen her smile her prettiest.

– Kin Hubbard

3. Dampened smile

Not all cultures invite a broad smile. In Japan, where etiquette dictates that emotions are stifled in public, there’s a greater emphasis on smiling with the eyes – this ^_^ instead of this :-).

The dampened smile is an attempt to control an automatic, happy one and exists because some muscles, such as the ones controlling the mouth, are easier to suppress than others.

The cheeks will be raised but the corners of the mouth pulled downwards or the lips pressed together.

4. Fear smile

When bonobo chimpanzees meet a more dominant male, they’ll expose their teeth and draw their lips back so that their gums are exposed, to say “I recognise your higher rank and I’m not looking for a fight”.

In babies, a broad toot-bearing grin can either mean they’re happy or distressed.

Studies have shown that men tend to smile more around those considered to be of higher status.

5. Miserable smile

A stoical grin-and-bear-it expression – a slight, asymmetric smile with an expression of deep sadness pasted over the top.

Since Landis’ classic study, psychologists have found this tell-tale smirk on the faces of those watching gory films (they were filmed by a hidden camera) and among patients suffering from depression.

It’s a socially acceptable way of showing that you’re sad or in pain.

6. Angry-enjoyment smile

Schadenfreude, translating roughly as ‘malicious joy’, is the thrill of discovering another’s misfortune.

For obvious reasons, this deliciously mischievous emotion is best concealed from others – but that’s not always easy.

If individuals are alone and feel unobserved, they usually express feelings of schadenfreude with Duchenne smiles and Duchenne laughs.

When we know someone’s watching, the best we can do is plaster an expression of anger over the top, resulting in the fixed, creepy grin which has become a staple of horror movie villains.  

This blended expression is just one of several smiles with a similar formula, such as enjoyable-contempt, enjoyable-fear and enjoyable-sadness.

7. Contempt smile

This indicates a mixture of disgust and resentment and is disconcertingly similar to a smile of true delight, except for the corners of the lips which appear tightened.

In East Asian culture, which is less centred around the needs of the individual, negative emotions are often concealed with a smile to maintain social harmony.

8. Embarrassed smile

Identical to the dampened smile, though the two are easily distinguished – if not by the flushed cheeks, then the uncomfortable situation which usually precedes it.

Another tell-tale sign is moving the head downwards and slightly to the left.

9. Qualifier smile

Aims to take the edge off bad news and is perhaps the most irritating of all the smiles, since it often traps the recipient into smiling back.

It begins abruptly, raising the lower lip slightly, and is occasionally accompanied by a slightly downwards and sideways tilt of the head.

10. Compliance smile

Looks the same as a qualifier smile but is often awkwardly deployed by the victims of the qualifier to show that they aren’t going to make a fuss.

11. Coordination response smile

Is another type of qualifier smile that displays agreement.

12. Listener smile

Another type of qualifier smile which tends to company ‘mm-hmm’ noises and reassuring nods that you’re still paying attention.

13. Flirtatious smile

For all its mystery, categorising this vanishing smile is easy.

Psychologists have known for decades that Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece captures an act of flirtation; his sitter smiles radiantly while gazing into the distance, then risks a sideways glance and an embarrassed smile before quickly looking away again.