From Sinatra to Katy Perry, celebrities have long sung about the power of a smile — how it picks you up, changes your outlook, and generally makes you feel better. But is it all smoke and mirrors, or is there a scientific backing to the claim?
Groundbreaking research confirms that the act of smiling can trick your mind into being more positive
Groundbreaking research from the University of South Australia confirms that the act of smiling can trick your mind into being more positive, simply by moving your facial muscles.
Anxiety and depression on the rise worldwide amid COVID-19 crisis
With the world in crisis amid COVID-19, and alarming rises of anxiety and depression in Australia and around the world, the findings could not be more timely.
Study evaluated the impact of a covert smile
The study, published in Experimental Psychology, evaluated the impact of a covert smile on perception of face and body expressions. In both scenarios, a smile was induced by participants holding a pen between their teeth, forcing their facial muscles to replicate the movement of a smile.
Research discovered the following information about facial muscular activity
The research found that facial muscular activity not only alters the recognition of facial expressions but also body expressions, with both generating more positive emotions.
Lead researcher and human and artificial cognition expert, UniSA’s Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos says the finding has important insights for mental health.
If your muscles say you’re happy then your mind perceives it to be true, even when you’re faking it
“When your muscles say you’re happy, you’re more likely to see the world around you in a positive way,” Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says.
“In our research we found that when you forcefully practise smiling, it stimulates the amygdala — the emotional centre of the brain — which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state.
“For mental health, this has interesting implications. If we can trick the brain into perceiving stimuli as ‘happy’, then we can potentially use this mechanism to help boost mental health.”
Study replicated findings from the ‘covert’ smile experiment by evaluating how people interpret a range of facial expressions
The study replicated findings from the ‘covert’ smile experiment by evaluating how people interpret a range of facial expressions (spanning frowns to smiles) using the pen-in-teeth mechanism; it then extended this using point-light motion images (spanning sad walking videos to happy walking videos) as the visual stimuli.
Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says there is a strong link between action and perception.
“In a nutshell, perceptual and motor systems are intertwined when we emotionally process stimuli,” Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says.
“A ‘fake it ’til you make it’ approach could have more credit than we expect.”
1. Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos, Aiko Murata, Kyoshiro Sasaki, Yuki Yamada, Ayumi Ikeda, José A. Hinojosa, Katsumi Watanabe, Michal Parzuchowski, Carlos Tirado, Raydonal Ospina. Your Face and Moves Seem Happier When I Smile. Experimental Psychology, 2020; 67 (1): 14 DOI: 10.1027/1618-3169/a000470
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, which has been in print since 2005, and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Love is Medicine Project docuseries, The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit, The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10-week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. You can follow Razi on social media: Facebook at Razi Berry, Instagram at Razi.Berry and join the Love is Medicine group to explore the convergence of love and health. Look for more, and listen to more Love is Medicine podcast episodes here.