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Can a smile, even if forced, lift our spirits?

Can a smile, even if forced, lift our spirits?

Laugh and the whole world will laugh with you. Cry, and you will cry alone.

Dae-su, a character from the Korean movie Old Boy, repeats these lines by poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) while forcing a smile.

At the same time, he tries to understand why they kept him kidnapped for 15 years in a room with no other company than a TV and a board with those verses, only to be released later with a cell phone and a wallet with money.

(If you want to know more about this enigmatic character, you’ll have to watch the movie. You won’t regret it.)

Do we grieve because we cry, or do we cry because we are sad? A smile can, even if it’s wrong, Cheer us up?

Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), already described the inflationary effect of the physical manifestations of the emotions (physiological changes, face features) around emotional experiences.

Building on these ideas, the American philosopher William James and the Danish physician Carl Georg Lang suggested over a century ago that these experiences would be determined by Visualize body signals generated by the activity of the peripheral nervous system, eg heart rate or respiratory rate.

The feedback hypothesis

Since then, it has been a much-studied topic in science. One of the most prolific lines of research is that exploring the feedback hypothesis, or facial reactions.

This approach holds that Activate the facial muscles Co-expression of certain emotions directly affects the way we experience it.

Thus, frowning makes us feel irritated, while raising the corners of the lips It would increase our sense of happiness.

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Most of the studies that tested this conjecture were based on simulating facial expressions associated with emotions such as happiness or anxiety extreme anger.

When the participants were then asked about their state of mind, the majority stated that they were feeling emotional in a more intense way One of the cases in which these muscles are not activated.

However, this procedure has been criticized for the fact that people may be familiar with making a smile or making an angry face.


Moving the muscles involved in smiling can enhance a state of well-being. Shutterstock Pictures.

With a pencil in the mouth

To circumvent the problem, Fritz Strack and colleagues (1998) developed Hold a pencil in the mouth.

These researchers told a series of people that they would take part in a motor coordination study in which they had to hold a pencil between their teeth (as when we force a smile) or between their lips (which prevents them from simulating it) while watching funny strips.

The results showed that the participants who were forced to draw the laughing gesture crossed out Enjoy your time more Of those who were prevented from smiling.

Based on these types of findings, treatment strategies like these have been developed I invite you to smile for a few seconds every day in front of the mirror to increase the sense of comfort.

It was even suggested Botulinum toxin injection between the eyebrows Reduces symptoms of depression.

However, other work has not been able to conclusively support the feedback hypothesis.

For example, several studies have shown that simply feeling noticed through a camera can make this effect go away.

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It seems that the presence of such a device would reduce confidence in the inferences we draw from the movements of our muscles.

an experience
“Pencil in mouth” experiment. Normal Human Behavior (2022). CC BY

Luminous study

In light of the conflicting results, a recent study of more than 3,500 people from 19 countries (including Spain and Venezuela) attempted to provide more accurate data.

In one experiment, participants had to reproduce a file Typical gesture of joy Shown as a representative.

In another condition, the subjects were instructed to voluntarily move some of the muscles involved in smiling, which engendered a smile Expressions of happiness less typical.

When the participants were later asked about their mood, they reported feeling happier, and showed a similar increase in both tasks.

Furthermore, the effects were found to be independent of whether people were aware that they were imitating a smile or were being watched through a camera.

However, it is important to highlight that increased feelings of happiness It was small, resembling a visionary Pictures of puppies or babies.

Finally, a group of participants underwent the procedure of placing the pencil in the mouth. In this condition, the increase in subjective feelings of happiness was negligible.

In summary, the results of this work do not provide definitive support for the facial feedback hypothesis, but they do provide important confirmation that specific movements of smiling musclessuch as zygomatic, or mimicking facial expressions of joy enhance a state of well-being.

We can conclude that smiling is enough to lift our mood Don’t get excited. Therefore, if you want to feel happier, lift the corners of your lips or move your cheeks, but you don’t have to nibble on a pencil.

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* Jose Antonio Hinojosa Poveda He is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology, Cognitive Processes and Speech Therapy at the Complutense University of Madrid. Pedro Raul Montoro Martinez He is a professor in the Department of Basic Psychology at the National University of Distance Education, Madrid. The original article was published on Conversation.

Conversation

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