The Effect Of Faking Emotions On Mental Health

The key difference was in whether people were surface actors or deep actors.

The key difference was in whether people were surface actors or deep actors.

People who fake their emotions experience the highest levels of physical and mental strain, research finds.

A disconnect between the emotion people display and the one they feel causes psychological damage, including emotional exhaustion.

In contrast, people who change how they feel inside and express this true emotion, feel the least strain.

The conclusions come from a study of how over 2,500 employees in a range of industries manage their emotions.

Dr Allison Gabriel, the study’s first author, said:

“What we wanted to know is whether people choose to engage in emotion regulation when interacting with their co-workers, why they choose to regulate their emotions if there is no formal rule requiring them to do so, and what benefits, if any, they get out of this effort.”

The key difference was in whether people were surface actors or deep actors.

Dr Gabriel explained the distinction:

“Surface acting is faking what you’re displaying to other people.

Inside, you may be upset or frustrated, but on the outside, you’re trying your best to be pleasant or positive.

Deep acting is trying to change how you feel inside.

When you’re deep acting, you’re actually trying to align how you feel with how you interact with other people.”

Most people, the study found, had to act at least a little at work.

However, the healthiest group were the deep actors.

Dr Gabriel explained:

“The main takeaway, is that deep actors—those who are really trying to be positive with their co-workers—do so for prosocial reasons and reap significant benefits from these efforts.”

Deep actors found they made the most progress towards their work goals and had the most trust from their co-workers.

In contrast, those who acted at both the surface level and deep down, experienced the most mental strain.

Dr Gabriel said:

“Regulators suffered the most on our markers of well-being, including increased levels of feeling emotionally exhausted and inauthentic at work.”

Dr Gabriel concluded:

“I think the ‘fake it until you make it’ idea suggests a survival tactic at work.

Maybe plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction is easier in the short run, but long term, it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work.

In many ways, it all boils down to, ‘Let’s be nice to each other.’

Not only will people feel better, but people’s performance and social relationships can also improve.”

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Gabriel et al., 2019).

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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