Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is probably the most famous painting in the world. Often, art historians and commentators say that this is partly because her expression in the painting is ambiguous. People are intrigued by the expression and brought into an internal debate about the emotion that she’s feeling.
But now a new study shows that Mona Lisa’s smile is not ambiguous at all. Instead, most people perceive her expression as being happy, which means that we will need to come up with another explanation for the popularity of the painting.
Modified Versions of the Classic
For this study, researchers took advantage of digital image manipulation to subtly change the Mona Lisa. They curved the corners of the mouth either slightly upward or slightly downward. Then 12 raters were shown the various versions of the painting and were asked to rate them as either happy or sad, along with their confidence in the judgment.
The odds that raters would judge the original Mona Lisa to be happy was nearly 100%. However, researchers found they could manipulate the odds by showing sadder versions first, which made people more likely to conclude that the original was sadder.
Smiling Gives Confidence
Researchers also confirmed several previous insights about smiles in the process. First, they confirmed that people recognized smiles much faster than not-smiles. Smiles are the most recognizable facial expression, and when you smile people will recognize it faster and from a greater distance.
Judgments about Mona Lisa being happy were also given with more confidence. Researchers said people had a tendency toward attributing positive emotions and that these attributions had greater confidence because it confirms this bias.
More Mysteries about The Mona Lisa Remain
Although this study has thrown some doubt on the ambiguity of her expression, there are still many mysteries about the painting that remain. We don’t know much about Lisa Gherardini, the woman who posed for the painting, although her recently discovered remains may bring us closer to understanding more.
For example, they will tell us whether she smiled as she did in the painting because she had lost her teeth, a common theory. And they may reveal the truth about a more recent theory: that she had syphilis (which could also lead to a premature loss of teeth).
Although the answers to these questions may provide more depth to the character of the painting, they will not eliminate the essential charm of the world’s most famous smile.
Are You Ready for a Famous Smile?
Although we can’t guarantee that your smile will be as famous as the Mona Lisa, we can use cosmetic dentistry to make it a beautiful smile that you’ll be happy to share.
To learn more about your options for a smile makeover in Burke, Virginia, or surrounding areas, please call 703-323-8200 today for an appointment with cosmetic dentist Dr. Pamela Marzban.