Is pretending to smile enough to improve your mood?

Is pretending to smile enough to improve your mood?

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Research shows that pretending to smile can improve mood. Robert Lang/Stocksy
  • Humans communicate their feelings through their facial expressions.
  • Facial feedback theory says it can change the way we feel.
  • New international research has shown that posing with a fake smile can make people happier, but it doesn’t change their level of anger or anxiety.
  • Scientists also found that people who saw positive images felt happier than those who didn’t see the images.

The way our face moves can influence how we feel, depending on the facial feedback hypothesis. Facial expressions do more than express emotions, they also provide feedback to the brain, which influences our emotions.

A new global collaboration led by researchers at Stanford University has shown that even fake or posed smiles can make people happier.

The study is published in Nature Human behavior.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Nicholas Coles, a researcher at Stanford University, there are two theories as to why faking a smile can make us happier.

In an interview with Medical News TodayDr. Coles explained:

“A classic view is that facial feedback activates a biologically innate ‘switch’ (eg in the brain) that causes the whole body to respond emotionally. However, this idea is controversial.

He also described the less controversial point of view”[…] that sensorimotor feedback from the face is simply a signal that our brain uses to understand how we feel. The sensorimotor feedback of a smile is a cue that tells us that we are feeling good, and the sensorimotor feedback of a scowl is a cue that tells us that we are feeling bad.

Earlier studies showed that the lower face has a more significant effect on emotion, but Dr Coles said this may not be strictly true because “facial expressions of emotion often activate muscles in both halves of the face. For example, in a genuine smile, there is often both a stretching of the lips and squinting”

Research surrounding the theory has led to mixed results due to different methods leading to a lack of reproducible data, the work in the current study aimed to clarify this.

A total of 26 research groups from 19 different countries and more than 3,800 participants took part in the work within the framework of the Many Smiles collaboration. The average age of the participants was 26 years old and more than 70% were women.

Researchers asked participants to participate in different tasks before completing a Discrete Emotions Questionnaire (DEQ) to measure their level of happiness. Happiness ratings included satisfaction, appreciation, and enjoyment from 1 = “not at all” to 7 = “an extreme amount”. The researchers also asked the participants about their level of anxiety, anger, fatigue and confusion.

The tasks performed by the participants were:

  • Pen-in-the-mouth task – where participants held a pen with their teeth to simulate a smile or with their lips to create a neutral pose.
  • Facial mimicry task – where researchers asked participants to copy the facial expression of actors posing with happy expressions or posing with neutral expressions.
  • Voluntary facial action task – where researchers asked participants to move the corners of their lips towards their ears and raise their cheeks using their facial muscles or pose with a neutral facial posture.

Before the end of the tests, the scientists carried out attention checks. Participants who did not achieve a defined score were not included in the study. The researchers also excluded participants who used a mobile device to complete the study, did not recreate the required face pose, or indicated that they were distracted at the time of the study.

Researchers studied DEQ responses to understand whether participants said their level of happiness changed when they posed with a happy face or a neutral expression.

Scientists also investigated the effect of positive images (photos of dogs, flowers, kittens, and rainbows or culturally appropriate alternatives) on participants’ happiness levels using the DEQ. .

Participants reported higher levels of happiness in the presence of positive images and after posing with a happy expression.

Professor Olga Stavrova, an associate professor at Tilburg University, who was not involved in the study, shared her thoughts on Twitter, calling the research “very interesting”.

She said the increased levels of happiness reported by participants after being exposed to smiling faces compared to neutral faces may be due to “emotional contagion” – where people tend to align their emotional state with those who surround them.

The researchers noted that a happy face posed in the presence of a positive image had no additional increase in feelings of happiness.

Interestingly, they also noted that a happy facial expression did not decrease feelings of anger or anxiety. However, participants reported higher levels of anger and anxiety in the pen-in-mouth task than in the other two tasks.

When asked why the research focused on the smile, Dr. Coles explained that logistical constraints prevented them from studying thethe impact of “multiple facial expressions”. This would have meant expanding the already complex research and involving a much larger number of participants.

He went on to say that a group within the Many Smiles collaboration looked at other facial expressions in a follow-up study, where they looked at both the effects of smiling and grimacing.

“[They] found that posed smiles increased happiness and posed grimaces increased anger, even when participants were told or believed that such effects were not real. [E]By increasing the number of facial expressions, this work suggests that such effects are not just placebo,” he said.

Discussing the impact of different expressions, Dr Coles said they had interesting results for several other emotions.

“Surprisingly, we didn’t find the effect for the posed expressions of fear and surprise. However, this may be because there are not many studies on these expressions yet,” he said.

This study shows that “facial feedback is one of many components of the peripheral nervous system that contribute to emotional experience.”

But does the study mean that smiling in the mirror every morning can manage distress, and could these small effects add up and influence wellbeing over time? Currently, there is not enough research to fully understand whether facial feedback can be used to improve mental health.

“The effect of posed smiles on happiness is very small – about the same size as the effect of looking at slightly pleasant pictures of rainbows and puppies. have not emerged as a serious wellness intervention, I find posed smiles unlikely to be. Ultimately, however, we will need more research if we are to be sure.”
— Dr. Nicholas Coles

The next steps in this work are not just about understanding how a single part of the body impacts emotion. The goal, according to Dr. Coles, is to form “a massive international and interdisciplinary study that will help […] understand how various body parts (eg, heart rate, facial expressions, body temperature) behave and work together to shape the conscious experience of emotion.

#pretending #smile #improve #mood

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