There are four ways of telling the difference.
First, spontaneous smiles produce characteristic wrinkles around the eyes, which will not appear if your target is 'forcing' a smile out of politeness.
Second, 'forced' or 'social' smiles tend to be asymmetrical (stronger on the left side of the face in right-handed people and on the right side of the face in left-handed people).
The third clue to insincerity is in the timing of the smile: unspontaneous smiles tend to occur at socially inappropriate moments in the conversation (e.g. a few seconds after you have made a funny remark, rather than immediately).
Finally, there is a clue in the duration of the smile, as a manufactured smile tends to be held for longer (what is often called a 'fixed' smile) and then to fade in an irregular way.
When observing your target's facial expressions, it is important to remember that although an expressive face -showing amusement, surprise, agreement etc. at the appropriate moments - may indicate that your target returns your interest, people do naturally differ in their degree and style of emotional expression. Women naturally tend to smile more than men, for example, and to show emotions more clearly in their facial expressions.
You are also likely to interpret expressions differently depending on who is making them. Experiments have shown that people may read the same expression as 'fear' when they see it on a female face, but as 'anger' when it appears on male face. There are also cultural and even regional differences in the amount of emotion people express with their faces. Oriental people are more likely than Westerners to hide their emotions under a 'blank' expression or a smile, for example, and American researchers have found that in the US, Notherners smile less than people from the South.
If an attractive stranger smiles at you, it could be that he or she finds you attractive, but he or she could also be an outgoing, sociable person from a culture or region in which smiling is commonplace and not particularly meaningful.
These factors must also be taken into account when considering the effect of your own facial expressions. People tend to be put off by levels of expressiveness that are considerably higher or lower than what they are used to, so it could help to try to 'match' the amount of emotion you express with your face to that of your target.
As a general rule, however, your face should be constantly informative during a flirtatious conversation. Unexpressiveness - a blank, unchanging face - will be interpreted as lack of interest when you are listening and an absence of facial emphasis when you are speaking will be disturbing and off-putting. You need to show interest and comprehension when listening, and to promote interest and comprehension when speaking, through facial signals such as eyebrows raised to display surprise, as a question mark or for emphasis; the corners of the mouth turning up in amusement; nodding to indicate agreement; frowning in puzzlement; smiling to show approval, or to indicate that what you are saying should not be taken too seriously, and so on.
Fortunately, most of these facial signals are habitual, and do not have to be consciously manufactured, but some awareness of your facial expressions can help you to monitor their effect and make minor adjustments to put your target more at ease, for example, or hold his or her attention, or increase the level of intimacy.
Finally, remember that your target is unlikely to be scrutinising you for tiny signs of insincerity, so a 'social' smile will be infinitely more attractive than no smile at all.
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