When we smile out of frustration not joy

Frustration often causes people to grin, a new study has suggested. Published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, the study revealed many individuals smile in these circumstances, even though they do not realise it.

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered the latest computer programmes are able to differentiate expressions of delight and frustration much better than humans can.

It is hoped the results might lead to technology being employed to better assess the emotional states of users, while also being adopted to accurately gauge feelings by those who have difficulty interpreting expressions - such as people with autism.

Jeffrey Cohn, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh - not involved in the study - said the findings are very exciting as they integrate psychology, speech processing and computer vision, adding: "Just because a customer is smiling, that doesn't necessarily mean they're satisfied ... The underlying meaning behind the smile is crucial."

Dr Sandi Mann, a Chartered Psychologist from the University of Central Lancashire, says:

"Humans are adept at displaying emotions that they don’t really feel and the smile is the most prominent example of this. We are socially conditioned to use the display signal of the smile to convey an emotion that we want to convey, even when we don’t really feel that emotion.

"So, customers may well smile even if they are not happy or satisfied. Not all customers want the service provider to know that they are not happy for various reasons (such as to save time). Many prefer just to pretend all is well and walk away. The smile then, can be a useful mask for the customer – but an organisation that can unmask the smile to uncover the real feelings will gain more insight into customer expectation."