Back to Main

Whats in a smile?

Written on December 19, 2005 by Kevin.

This weekend I spent a lot of time holding Rylan and just playing with him while he smiled. He is at a point now where you can tell he loves to watch our lips and enjoys the sounds coming from our voices. He seems truly intrigued by it all. He cant help but smile when he hears a new sound. With all of this smiling, it began to make me wonder, how does Rylan know that smiling and happiness are one in the same. From birth, how do we understand that a smile is related to happiness while a frown is related to sadness?

From another view, how is it that a smiling baby will nearly always make someone smile themselves? Could it be the pure innocence in that smile that we love that makes us smile ourselves? Do we look at that smile and think deeper into how that child may benefit the world years from then?

Any psychology majors want to take a stab at these questions?


Actually, I've taken quite a few child psych. this age, you might think the baby is making you smile by smiling, but the opposite is true... he is mimicking you (most likely). This is the time when infants start assigning emotions to facial features, and it helps to copy someone who already has this technique down pat! Try sticking your tongue out at Rylan...he will most likely do the same back to you...Have fun!

Written by JackieD on Dec 19, 2005

I partially disagree with Jackie. I think a baby does mimic adults smile, but the adult doesn't always initiate the smile with a smile. It possibly could just be a learned happy reaction simply initiated from being near a loved one.

An example: I would be walking down the jet way to see my father for one of the 3 times a year I got to visit him (divorced family living in different states) and I would start smiling long before I ever saw him at the gate. Why? Because I was glad to see him and I knew he'd be smiling too. Just like my dad would do his best to distract me when I had to leave because he knew I'd cry if I had time to think about leaving...a learned response for both of us.

Written by Jessica on Dec 19, 2005

I agree that Rylan has become to mimic us and learn facial expressions however I am not certain that he has learned from me that smiling is done when he is happy. I still feel that this is knowledge that he is born with. When I smile and then he smiles, I believe that he is just taking after me but when he lays alone on his changing table and smiles at his mobile, I think that is completely on his own. It's an interesting topic that I would like to dig deeper into.

Written by Kevin on Dec 20, 2005

My wife and I have a 7-month-old, and we were just wondering the same thing. When I tickle him or blow raspberries on his stomach, how does he know to laugh? He's never seen anyone tickle me before. Where do they learn to smile and laugh?

I've begun to think that since almost all babies do smile and laugh, and many of them at roughly the same point of development, perhaps it's more innate than we might originally think. I usually think about these things in caveman terms, since we human beings probably haven't evolved all that much since the fairly recent caveman days. A baby that smiled and laughed or even just mimicked its caveman family formed strong bonds that would be important for integrating it into a small group. I know that whenever I see my baby smile, it makes me smile in return and strengthens our bond even more, if that's possible. I guess that's just the way I've been thinking about it.

By the way, your logo with the Christmas cap is great!

Written by thisbiochemicallife on Dec 20, 2005

Write a comment

Remember this information?