- Jose Antonio Hinojosa Poveda and Pedro Raul Montoro Martinez
“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 he was kept kidnapped for 15 years in a room with no other company but 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 mysterious character, you will have to watch the movie. You will not regret.
Do we grieve because we cry, or do we cry because we are sad? Can a smile, even a fake one, lift our spirits? Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), had previously described amplifier effect The physical manifestations of emotions (physiological changes, facial expressions, etc.) influence our 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 Perception of bodily signals generated by the activity of the peripheral nervous system, such as heart rate or breathing 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 which explores a hypothesis reactions or facial reactions.
This approach asserts that activating the facial muscles involved in expressing certain emotions directly affects the way we feel.
Thus, frowning makes us feel angry, while raising the corners of the lips increases our sense of well-being.
Most of the studies that tested made this guess Mimicking facial expressions associated with emotions such as joy or anger. When the participants were then asked about their state of mind, the majority reported that they were feeling the emotion in a more intense way than in situations where these muscles were not activated.
However, this procedure has been criticized for the fact that people can be familiar with making a smile or putting on an angry face.
With a pencil in the mouth
To circumvent the problem, Fritz Strack et al. (1998) developed the pencil-in-oral procedure. These researchers have informed a number of people that they are going to take part in a study of motor coordination They had to hold a pencil between their teeth (like when we force a smile) or between the lips (preventing imitation) while watching comedy.
The results showed that the participants who were forced to smile said they had more fun than those who were prevented from smiling.
Based on these types of findings, therapeutic strategies such as those that invite you to smile for a few seconds each day in front of a mirror have been developed to increase feelings of well-being. It was even suggested Injecting botulinum toxin 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. It seems that the presence of such a device would reduce confidence in the inferences we draw from the movements of our muscles.
In light of the contradictory 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 the typical gesture of joy shown by an actor’s photo. In another condition, people were asked to voluntarily move certain muscles in a smile, resulting in less conventional expressions of happiness. When the participants were later asked about their state of mind, they did They said they felt happiershowing 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 this The increase in happiness was slightsimilar to what happens when you see pictures of puppies or babies.
Finally, a group of participants underwent the procedure of placing the pencil in the mouth. In this case, The increase in subjective feelings of happiness was small.
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 muscles involved in smiling, such as the zygomatic muscle, or mimicking facial expressions of joy promote a state of well-being.
We can conclude that smiling is enough to lift our mood, even though it’s not something we get excited about. 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.
* José Antonio Hinojosa Poveda and Pedro Raúl Montoro Martínez are professors in the Department of Experimental Psychology, Cognitive Processes and Speech Therapy, Complutense University of Madrid and Department of Fundamental Psychology I of the National University of Distance Education (UNED).) From Spain.
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