Simply Smiling Can Actually Reduce Stress
It sounds like the most useless advice imaginable: Just put on a happy face. Conventional wisdom is that smiling is an effect of feeling happy, rather than the other way around. Simply smiling in stressful situations can’t possibly make you feel any better, right?
Wrong. A fascinating new study by University of Kansas psychologists that will soon be published in the journal Psychological Science indicates that, in some circumstances, smiling can actually reduce stress and help us feel better.
“Age old adages, such as ‘grin and bear it,’ have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life’s stressful events,” said researcher Tara Kraft. “We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits.”
To investigate the claim, the researchers recruited 169 willing college students for a hands-on experiment. But they had to engage in a bit of deception. Actually telling the participants that they were testing whether smiling would make them happier would have distorted the results, so the students were told that the experiment was about multi-tasking.
First, the participants were instructed on how to perform an unusual task: holding chopsticks in their mouths in particular ways that prompted various facial expressions. They were divided into three groups, one that was taught how to form a neutral expression, one that learned how to form a normal smile, and one that was instructed to form a Duchenne smile (also known as a genuine smile), which involves the use of eye muscles, as well as those around the mouth. Additionally, only half of the smilers actually heard the world “smile” during the learning phase; the others were simply taught how to hold the chopsticks in a way that produced smiles, without the expression being identified as such