Why do we smile?

How do babies learn to smile?

What makes us smile?


A smile is a powerful thing, but we are not born with the ability to smile.  During the first few months of our lives we experiment with moving the muscles in our face and pull thousands of different facial expressions, so why do we pick the one where the corners of our mouth are raised to be a smile?


The answer relates to the ‘feel good’ hormone oxytocin and our parents, let me explain:


When we first start pulling the ‘smile’ face our parents go CRAZY, they do silly baby voices, they do weird clapping movements, they wave me in front of other moving blobs saying things like ‘make him do it again’ or ‘you’ll never guess what Prince just did’ (for the record I was never called Prince – only in my head ;0) ).  In short these large moving blobs that are here to entertain us, keep us occupied until we either decide to go to sleep or eat again, go WILD for this STUFF, they love it when we pull the smiling face.

And when our parents go crazy about us smiling the area of the brain called the amygdala releases a hormone called oxytocin.  That’s the hormone that makes us feel good, our brain releases it when we’re proud, when we’ve done something charitable or generous, when we get a gift and when we smile or laugh.

So as a baby we learn that when we pull the ‘smiling’ face everyone reacts to it and makes us feel good for doing it.  That then triggers a release in our brain which gives us a warm glow.  So we learn to associate smiling with a warm glow.

And that is why when someone genuinely smiles at you and you smile back, you get an honest glow in your chest, your brain (the amygdala) learned to release those chemicals when that face is pulled at you, so you know it’s a good thing and you enjoy it and you become addicted to that positive warm feeling.  So go on, give a junkie a fix and smile at someone today.


If you would like to know more about how emotions and our brain develops, then try a free month of membership to the parenting network of the future, Help My Child Grow.


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