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17 August 2012
Are you smiling as you read this? If you aren’t, why not try it? If you’ve just put on a smile has that changed how you are feeling? Amazing, isn’t it, that changing what your body is doing can alter how your mind interprets the world. Now a new study has shown how far that effect can go and what other physical effects can arise from a smile.
There are two types of smile; the standard smile in which only the mouth is involved or the genuine (also called Duchenne) smile in which the muscles around the eyes are also involved. The name Duchenne comes from Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne who studied how a truly happy smile also involves the muscles around eyes by using electrophysiology. A genuine smile is believed to have many physiological effects and that is what these researchers set out to investigate.
In the study the researchers had subjects perform multi-tasks designed to raise stress levels. For instance in one task the subjects had to follow the path of a moving star that they observed in a mirror and in another they had to keep their hand in a bucket of ice cold water. Heart rates were monitored as they performed the tests.
They found that subjects who were instructed to smile had lower heart rates after recovery from the stressful tasks than those who held their face in a neutral expression. Those who gave a genuine Duchenne smile did even better and had lower heart rates still. Even people who held chopsticks in their mouths forcing the mouth into a smile (although they were not instructed to smile) had lower heart rates.
Smiling not only signals happiness to others, it signals it to yourself and physical changes follow. These researchers say that smiling periods of stress, even if you are not happy, may reduce the body’s stress response.
As far as stress goes then, it seems grinning does help you to bear it so go on, spread sunshine all over the place and put on a happy face.