RESEARCH QUESTION -- Why Is This Woman Smiling?

RESEARCH QUESTION -- Why Is This Woman Smiling?

by Alice Shirrell Kaswell, AIR staff


There's sperm news to smile about, according to a press release issued by the University of Southern California:

researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California have found.... [that] sperm densities [now are] no different from samples collected in major studies in the 1950s. "Everything in our study indicates that the average man's sperm count is not changing," said study co-author Rebecca Sokol, M.D., of the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The results are published in the March issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility.

The photo here, produced by the University to accompany the press release, shows Dr. Sokol smiling. It is a most intriguing smile, as distinctive as that of the Mona Lisa. What does it mean?

It may be instructive to look at what investigators already know -- or think they know -- about the earlier case.

Mona's Misadventure or Misfortune?

Researchers have yet to definitively explain Mona Lisa's smile. Many have tried. Here are two of the most influential studies.

1) "Mona Lisa: the enigma of the smile," J.E. Borkowski, Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol. 37, no. 6, November 1992, pp. 1706-11. Borkowski, who is at the Georgetown University School of Dentistry in Washington, D.C, reports:

The Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, 1503, pictures a smile that has been long the subject of conjecture. It is believed, however, that the Mona Lisa does not smile; she wears an expression common to people who have lost their front teeth. A closeup of the lip area shows a scar that is not unlike that left by the application of blunt force. The changes evident in the perioral area are such that occur when the anterior teeth are lost. The scar under the lower lip of the Mona Lisa is similar to that created, when, as a result of force, the incisal edges of the teeth have pierced the face with a penetrating wound.

2) "Mona Lisa syndrome: solving the enigma of the Gioconda smile," K.K. Adour, Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology, vol. 89, no. 3, March 1989, pp. 196-9. Adour, who is at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, CA, reports:

The Mona Lisa smile is presented as a possible example of facial muscle contracture that develops after Bell's palsy when the facial nerve has undergone partial wallerian degeneration and has regenerated. The accompanying synkinesis would explain many of the known facts surrounding the painting and is a classic example of Leonardo da Vinci as the compulsive anatomist who combined art and science.

Mona Lisa and Dr. Sokal

Dr. Sokal's enigmatic smile is likely due to other causes. Look for it to emerge in the coming decade as a subject of intense scrutiny. If you make any discoveries on the matter, I would enjoy hearing from you.


This is a HotAIR exclusive feature. (c) copyright 2000 Annals of Improbable Research