When we’re happy, we smile.
The corners of our mouths move out and up, our cheeks lift, and the skin around
our eyes crinkles. But does it work the other way? Can posing our muscles in a
smile brighten our mood? This question has been part of a
long-standing debate among psychology researchers about whether facial
expressions influence our emotional experience, an idea known as the facial
feedback hypothesis. In a recent paper published in
Nature Human Behavior, an international collaboration of researchers led by
Stanford research scientist Nicholas Coles found strong evidence that posed
smiles can, in fact, make us happier.

The researchers created a
plan that included three well-known techniques intended to encourage
participants to activate their smile muscles. One-third of participants were directed to
use the pen-in-mouth method, one-third were asked to mimic the facial
expressions seen in photos of smiling actors, and the final third were given
instructions to move the corners of their lips toward their ears and lift their
cheeks using only the muscles in their face.

In each group, half the
participants performed the task while looking at cheerful images of puppies,
kittens, flowers, and fireworks, and the other half simply
saw a blank screen. They also saw these same types of images (or lack thereof)
while directed to use a neutral facial expression.

In order to disguise the
goal of the trial, the researchers mixed in several other small physical tasks
and asked participants to solve simple math problems.
After each task, participants rated how happy they were feeling.

The Many Smiles Collaboration collected data
from 3,878 participants from 19
countries. After analyzing their data, the researchers found a noticeable
increase in happiness from participants mimicking smiling photographs or
pulling their mouth toward their ears. 6But much like
the 2016 group, they didn’t find a strong mood change in participants using the
pen-in-mouth technique.


Nicholas Coles
et al,JOURNAL:Nature Human Behaviour

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