You Can’t Fake It Til You Make It


In relationships, we’re always on the lookout for how we make our partners feel. If you make them happy, you’re happy. If you make them upset, well, let’s just say you want to avoid that. However, it’s fairly obvious when an emotional display is just a means to getting what we want. Here are five social cues and traits, and why we can’t fully fake them no matter how hard we try.

Photo: Phil Richards/Creative Commons

According to a study by the University of Royal Holloway recently featured on, fake laughter doesn’t fool anyone. In their experiment, the brains of people who heard genuine laughter were found to respond differently when compared to those belonging to people who were exposed to fake laughter. Moreover, the researchers noticed that parts of the brain associated with mentalizing lit up when false chuckles were heard, meaning that not only can our heads tell laughter is fake, our minds also attempt to find out exactly why a person is acting phony.

A 2000 University of Glasgow study has pinpointed which parts of our brains deal with voices, and namely recognizing the social cues they come laden with. After likely evolving around 100 million years ago, these voice areas help us pinpoint the subtle differences between the voice of someone who is happy and someone who’s just pretending, often without fail. Sounds that are emotionally happy, such as a baby’s laugh, light up your primary auditory cortex more than unpleasant sounds. It’s fairly interesting to note that around the time we learned to hear emotion is also around the time humans began their first forays into language.

Have you ever put on a brave face, without success? Turns out that children even as young as 18 months can tell the difference between someone who is genuinely sad and someone faking it, according to research of Concordia University in Canada. Likewise, our brains aren’t fooled by negative reactions that don’t match what’s happening, so pouting won’t do you much good if your girl won’t let you buy those season tickets. The piece published in the Journal of the International Society on Infant Studies goes on to state that the reason behind this is that our ability to detect sadness—and react—is likely the result of evolution that is necessary to survive in a social world.

One instance in which we try to force or falsify our attraction for someone is when we realize they tick off all the characteristics of our ideal mate checklist: nice eyes, great job, a penchant for cats. However, a 2004 Northwestern University study has concluded that no matter how much we try to force ourselves to be attracted to a walking ideal, our brains override the logical process by immediately focusing in on a person’s attractiveness, followed by their personality, as soon as we come face to face. On the other hand, love (or the feeling of being in love) can be triggered if you behave like you’re in love, according to a social experiment conducted by the University of Hertfordshire. So if you’re leading a girl on, be careful—you may find yourself head over heels sooner or later.

Competence is cultivated by correctly accomplishing a task multiple times and can’t be faked—not that that stops you from putting yourself in situations where you honestly believe you can do something that’s beyond your abilities. Why is that? As when you “fake it til you make it,” your brain goes through a process wherein it creates false memories of success. Science has proven that your brain can’t tell the difference between false memories and those that are real, which is one reason it’s so easy to delude yourself into thinking you can do something, even if you really can’t. This disjunct between false and real memory is also what makes eyewitnesses notoriously unreliable.


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