Can You Spot A Fake Smile?

I found this psychology test recently on the BBC science website. A prominent, everyday and recognizable body language behaviour is the smile. Smiles are generally associated with positive communication and can send clear signals about positive states of mind. They can, however, be faked.

Can you spot a fake one?

Click this image to test yourself:


18/20 for me, but I was duped by 2 subjects.. it’s the crow’s feet that got me.  Not to worry if you’re a low scorer here, fake smiles don’t necessarily mean something deeply devious is occurring and even when recognized we, for the most part, all accept fake smiles.  Even a faked smile can indicate a positive intention.

Book Review: Book of Tells

Book of Tells by Peter Collett is a book based primarily on body language, but also includes some linguistic and vocal insights.  This book is best described as an attempt to categorize and catalogue non-verbal communication.  It is essentially attempting to isolate and document individual behaviours and their associated meanings. It conceptualizes these distinct behaviours as “tells”. The term “tell” is borrowed from the poker playing sub-culture and popularized in various Hollywood films.

On starting this book, I was surprised to find that the author was a resident psychologist on the TV show Big Brother.  I read and reviewed another body language book back in 2009 called Visible Thought – The New Psychology of Body Language. That book was written by a previous Big Brother psychologist who Collett also makes reference to in this book, Geoffrey Beattie. This link between reviews was a pure co-incidence, so I’d like to make it clear that I’m not a Big Brother obsessive. I did watch the first couple of series, but lost interest as contestants rapidly learned to play and manipulate the game. I was much more interested by the first couple of series which were much closer to objective social experiments.

I have to admit, this book was a hard read, there isn’t much structure to it.  There is no enlightening journey to follow where chapters build on chapters, it is very much written like an encyclopedia.  This means you have to be committed to reading repetitively, there is no evolution of concept. Barring the first and last chapters which have been shoehorned in as wrappers, you could easily read the chapters in a random order without losing any comprehension at all.  This is not a criticism. It’s more like guidance of what to expect. I guess the clue is very much in the name of the book.. “Book of Tells”, I’m assuming is a play on words for a “Book of Spells” which you would expect to find in this format.

If you are willing to grind through it and understand the format it comes in, it’s quite a good book.  I have seen some reviews complaining about the lack of originality in this book, stating that it’s rehashing other people’s work. This is somewhat true, but I don’t see any point in re-inventing the wheel and it does do a good job of pulling some those other texts together. I would recommend it as a beginner or refresher book on body language.

Some of the highlights for me were the real-world examples used to highlight and underscore the definitions used. I particularly liked the one about politicians kissing babies, who it seems don’t do this for popularity, but out of a fear of being hit. In short, they’re using the babies as a Saddam like human shields. Another great example was centered around Sir Alex Ferguson, Manager of the Manchester United Football Team. It suggests that a better way of understanding the fortunes of the team during a match is not to watch what’s happening on the pitch, but to monitor the speed at which Sir Alex chews his gum. I’ll be looking out for this at the next game.

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Book Review: Visible Thought – The New Psychology of Body Language

Geoffrey Beattie is a respected and well known Psychology Professor based at Manchester University (UK).  I first became aware of Geoffrey after seeing him on TV some years ago as the resident psychologist for the UK’s Big Brother series.  After some googling I found his book titled Visible Thought – the New Psychology of Body Language (2003).



In reality, I bought the book several years ago around 2006.  On my first attempt to read, I got most of the way through the first chapter and rapidly lost interest.  The introduction was heavily peppered with Big Brother references and I got the distinct impression that there was some cashing in occurring on Geoffrey’s part, given his new found exposure as the widely renowned Big Brother body language expert.  I expected the remainder of the book to essentially re-iterate descriptions of some of the events occurring in Big Brother, which wasn’t really what I was expecting or interested in. The book soon found a quiet corner in my study and began gathering dust. Continue reading