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article imageEssential Science: Can smiling a lot really make you feel better?

By Tim Sandle     Aug 24, 2020 in Science
The coronavirus era may not give us too much to smile about, but being happy and walking around with a smile on your face does appear to pay dividends according to some new research from the University of South Australia.
It may be a cliché to say: ‘when you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you’ (as per the popular song written by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher and Joe Goodwin in 1928), but there appears to be some level of truth to this old saying. The basis of the new research is that, to a degree, confirms that the act of smiling allows an individual to can trick their mind into being more positive. This can be achieved simply by moving your facial muscles.
New study
With the new research strand, the research team looked at the impact of a covert smile on perception of face and body expressions. To achieve this, each study participant was required to create a smile by holding a pen between their teeth. This served to force their facial muscles to replicate the appearance and movement of a smile.
It was discovered through a series of experiments that this type of facial muscular worked to alter the recognition of facial expressions , it also changed body expressions. In both cases this resulted in the creation of more positive emotions.
The universal smile symbol  which became associated with 1990s rave culture. On show at the Design M...
The universal smile symbol, which became associated with 1990s rave culture. On show at the Design Museum, London.
Commenting on the research, the principal scientist, Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos says that this type of research provided key insights into mental health.
According to Marmolejo-Ramos: "When your muscles say you're happy, you're more likely to see the world around you in a positive way… 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.”
The implications of the research may help to inform studies of mental health and the degree to which someone who is feeling low can trick their brain into perceiving stimuli as 'happy', and as such boost mental health.
Real smiles
Forcing a smile does not mean that the smile is real, however. Other psychologists have established that assessing whether or not a smile is genuine can be assessed through an interpretation of physical measurements.
With this, it appears that a particular set of facial actions are what identifies ‘true smiles’. These are termed Duchenne smiles, which are smiles that engage the muscle around a person’s eyes.
The physical term is a reference to Guillaume Duchenne, the French neurologist who studied emotional expression by stimulating various facial muscles with electrical currents.
Smiling may hep you to live longer
A different research group have looked into whether smiling correlates with increased live expectancy. For this, scientists collected photographs of some 200 Major League Baseball players who were active in 1952. They then categorized the images based on whether the player showed a genuine Duchenne smile or was not smiling at all. The researchers then looked at the dates when the baseball players died.
My take a smile flyer.
My take a smile flyer.
It was found that the players with genuine smiles in their photos tended to live longer than non-smilers.
Other research strands have looked into whether regular smilers (of the ‘genuine’ smile type) are in some way healthier than others. By studying students, it was found that those who smile more often tend to pay fewer visits to heath or medical centers.
Boys smile as one reads an Ebola prevention flyer in a suburb of Dakar  Senegal on September 11  201...
Boys smile as one reads an Ebola prevention flyer in a suburb of Dakar, Senegal on September 11, 2014
Seyllou, AFP/File
Go on, have a go…
Whether the practice of a forced smile really does trigger an emotive response or not, it’s probably worth a go trying at least once per day.
Research paper
The research has been published in the journal Experimental Psychology, where the associated science paper is titled “Your Face and Moves Seem Happier When I Smile”.
Essential Science
This article forms part of Digital Journal’s long-running Essential Science series. Each week we present a new science finding, covering a diverse range of subjects.
Respirator mask for COVID-19  worn by Digital Journal s Tim Sandle.
Respirator mask for COVID-19, worn by Digital Journal's Tim Sandle.
Last week we looked at tattooing and the microbial contamination risks associated with tattoo ink, in the context of a growing rise in infection rates.
The week before the subject was face masks and face coverings, in the context of COVID-19. This considered how well face masks work in terms of minimizing coronavirus spread. The evidence is compelling if a person is infected and the right type of mask is worn (and worn correctly). Such scientific data challenges the opinions of some leading politicians.
More about Smiles, smiling, Emotions, pyschology, Feelings
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