Smiles are catching

There are more things in the universe that are contagious than a cold. Puns are contagious; if one person has the poor grace to give in to the urge to pun others are sure to follow and before you know it everyone in the room has raised eyebrows and a pained expression. Truth is contagious; one person sharing the truth often leads to others feeling safe to do the same. Of course, we also know that laughter is contagious and now a new report has highlighted why smiles, and even frowns, have that contagious quality.

In the new report psychologists have outlined how in a social situation people will simulate other people’s facial expressions in order to create emotional responses in themselves. Research has shown for example that when you smile the muscles involved in that smile send information to the brain in a feedback loop. The brain interprets the smile to mean that there must be something to be happy about and so the brain feels happy. Hence if see someone smiling and smile yourself, by “trying on” your companion’s expression you can recognise what they are feeling by recalling the times in the past when have had that facial expression.

The same principles apply to a frown as to a smile. So facial mimicry is essentially allowing you to empathise with those around you however, it is also a very practical thing. Your own emotional reaction to the face enhances your perception of what the person is feeling and this helps you make better decisions about whether you want to approach the person or not.

Emotional mirroring is what it is called and it is not just about understanding others, it is about survival.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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