The Item of Clothing That Can Help People Feel Less Angry

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How to turn that frown upside down.

Wearing sunglasses makes people less likely to express anger on a sunny day, a recent psychology study finds.

The findings are based on the idea of embodied cognition: that our facial expressions and bodily actions, whatever their cause, feed back into how we feel.

The slightly bizarre study, published in the journal Cognition & Emotion, had researchers walking up and down a beach on a sunny day (Marzoli et al., 2013).

People were randomly approached who were either wearing sunglasses or not, and who were either walking into the sun or away from it.

They were then asked to complete a test in which they could express both anger and bitterness.

The results showed that people walking into the sun without sunglasses were more likely to express anger than people who had the sun behind them, or who were wearing sunglasses and walking into the sun.

There was no difference, though, on a measure of bitterness, suggesting that people walking into the sun weren’t just in a generalised bad mood.

And it didn’t matter how long they had been walking into the sun, so wearing sunglasses, or not, likely has a very quick effect.

This was despite the fact that most people reported the sun wasn’t bothering them.

Embodied cognition

The reason that this works is that when people are walking into the sun without sunglasses, they usually frown to shield their eyes.

It just so happens, though, that frowning uses some of the same facial muscles as expressing anger.

And frowning, even when there’s nothing to be angry about, makes anger more likely to come to the fore.

It’s the same effect that means that if you force yourself to smile, even when you’re in a bad mood, it can make you feel a little better.

Psychologists call it embodied cognition.

It’s not just our mind that causes our facial expressions: our facial expressions (and posture) also feed back directly to the mind.

Botox for depression

The same effect has been observed in people who have botox injections between their eyebrows to stop them frowning.

One study has shown that people suffering from moderate or severe depression experienced a 50% reduction in symptoms, on average, from botox injections (Finzi & Rosenthal, 2014).

Image credit: Daniela Vladimirova

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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 27 August 2014

Text: © All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License