Reading lips – 5 messages

One of the numerous ways we give away our secrets is with our lips. Our mouth can, however, tell many lies. And I’m not talking about words here. We are able to manipulate our mouths to send out false signals, unlike other, much more involuntary, responses. It is therefore wise to take caution in interpreting nonverbal cues on the mouth alone.

Studying photos of public figures are fascinating. You can see so many expressions, especially around their mouths. One-sided smiles, false smiles, genuine smiles, smirks, disgust, sneers, stress and so much more can be observed. Here are only five of those to start of with:

(1) Full lips: When someone’s relaxed, their mouths will reflect that. Their lips will be full (not swollen), the muscles around their mouths also relaxed, not pulling the lips up, down or to the sides. (As in the main photo)

Barack Obama(2) Thin lips: The more distress, the thinner the lips will be until they almost completely disappear. Try it: Imagine you are furious with your boss/service provider/neighbour. What would your face look like? Apart from frowning and glaring, I bet that if you look in the mirror now, you will see your lips in thin lines.


rsz_1sneer(3) Sneering: We do this to show disrespect or contempt. Not so long ago, I saw a billboard for a politician. The expression on his face that was supposed to be a smile, was actually a sneer. Not a good way to attract constituents. When we sneer, the lips will be thinner than when relaxed. We also use different muscles than laughing or genuine smile muscles. The sneer muscles will draw the lips sideways towards the ears, sometimes mistaken for a smile. (In the photo you can see how the corners of his mouth don’t lift.)


rsz_1pursed_lips(4) Lip pursing: This is very useful to look for when you are arguing discussing an issue with someone. When they purse their lips, they are either considering an alternative to your demand suggestion or they totally disagree with you. It might help you to refine your… um… presentation.



rsz_bite_lip(5) Lip biting: We usually do this when we are nervous. Or sexually attracted to someone. Two quite extreme situations, right? Well, for the latter, we usually catch our bottom lip lightly between our teeth. For stress? Both lips are freely chewed on. With stress, the lips will be thinner. With attraction, the lips will be fuller (as in the photo).

Interesting, right? When chatting to someone today, pay attention to their mouth as they speak. There is so much to observe.

2 responses

  1. Too bad there were no photographs, which would have helped.


    1. Thanks for pointing it out, Margaret. I’ve added some photos (great suggestion!). Hope it helps. :-)


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