How we think with both our brains and our bodies.
One of the simplest ways of feeling happier is to force a smile.
Similarly, scowling makes us feel more miserable.
Both are examples of how we think with both our brains and our bodies.
While we tend to think of smiles and scowls being the end product of our internal emotional processes, they can also be the start.
No one is claiming that forcing a smile will cure depression, but it is worth considering the implications of even a small effect such as this one.
Imagine all the little facial expression a person makes over a day, and then over a lifetime.
Think of how the posture and dynamics of the rest of the body feeds back to the mind’s emotional state (for example, a happy style of walking).
It is not hard to imagine that routinely smiling as opposed to scowling, along with other aspects of positive body language, would make a difference to mental health in the long-term.
Nevertheless, the idea that smiling makes people happy has been controversial, explained Mr Nicholas Coles, the study’s first author:
“Conventional wisdom tells us that we can feel a little happier if we simply smile.
Or that we can get ourselves in a more serious mood if we scowl.
But psychologists have actually disagreed about this idea for over 100 years.”
For the study, researchers looked at 138 separate studies including over 11,000 people.
Mr Coles said:
“Some studies have not found evidence that facial expressions can influence emotional feelings.
But we can’t focus on the results of any one study.
Psychologists have been testing this idea since the early 1970s, so we wanted to look at all the evidence.”
The meta-analysis found that facial expressions do indeed have a small effect on how people feel.
Mr Coles said:
“We don’t think that people can smile their way to happiness.
But these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion.
We still have a lot to learn about these facial feedback effects, but this meta-analysis put us a little closer to understanding how emotions work.”
The study was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin (Coles et al., 2019).
Hello, and welcome to PsyBlog. Thanks for dropping by.
This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.