The dictionary defines a mirror as a reflecting surface, something that gives a minutely faithful representation, image, or idea of something else.
When used in the psychological sense, mirroring is the replication of another individual’s nonverbal signals. We mirror others’ expressions and gestures when we like them and feel connected to them, usually without anyone noticing. Imagine you are talking to a friend and he leans forward and smiles; without consciously realizing what you are doing, you will likely smile and lean forward as well.
Mirroring creates rapport between people. Most psychologists agree the person who is mirroring the behavior is demonstrating empathy: the person who is mirroring feels a connection to the other person when making the same expressions or gestures and they person being mirrored tends to believe the other individual shares their thoughts and feelings.
Most people smile every day. It is an automatic reflex and a deliberate one, so in many cases it does not indicate joy. Scientists say smiles can be an evolutionary behavior, designed to let others know that we’re not being threatening. They point to chimps who might smile because they are happy or smile to show they have no wish to challenge another animal. Sometimes people mistake an animal’s open mouth or display of teeth as “smiling” or “laughing”, to their own peril.
This chimp isn’t laughing; his expression is aggressive
There are many reasons people display an insincere smile, including nervousness, manipulation, confusion, embarrassment, and many others. It’s worth knowing if someone’s smile is sincere, but often it’s difficult to tell a real expression from a feigned one. There are a few tell-tale signs you can easily distinguish though, so let’s examine a few smiles that are definitely not authentic.
Exhibit A is Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. After being indicted, Governor Perry posed for his mug shot. Hs expression is technically a smile, but it hardly exudes happiness. The two giveaways in this picture are his mouth and his forehead. A real smile is somewhat loose, but the muscles around Governor Perry’s mouth are tightened. When you’re happy, your eyebrows naturally lift a little. Perry’s forehead is even, or possibly even lowered, which is a sign of anger.