Researchers look at whether smiling during tough times can help the body relieve stress.
Smiles make us look happy. They’re associated with good mood, laughter, and good times. But when things aren’t so pleasant, can the mere act of smiling actually make things better?
The Duchenne smile
There is a whole spectrum of smiling that measures the degree of sincerity—from flat and insincere to bright and contagiously genuine.
The Duchenne smile is considered the most ingenuous of smiles. It was coined after French physician Guillaume Duchenne, who, while researching the physiology of facial expressions, first identified two distinct forms of smiling: the non-Duchenne smile involves raising only the corners of the mouth; and the Duchenne smile, which not only raises the corners of the mouth, but also engages the muscles in the cheeks and eyes. It’s the smile most associated with spontaneity and joy.
Smiling reduces stress
A new study soon to be published in Psychological Science looks at how smiling can help us deal with stress.
The study included 169 participants who went through both training and testing phases. Participants were put into one of three groups. Each group was trained to hold a neutral facial expression, a standard smile, or a Duchenne smile. Participants were also required to hold a pair of chopsticks in their mouth; this prevented the participants from being aware of whether they were smiling or not.
The testing phase of the study required participants to perform stressful activities; these included tracing a star with their non-dominant hand by looking at a reflection of the star in a mirror; the other activity required participants to submerge a hand into ice water.
The results from the study showed that those who were instructed to smile, and especially those who showed genuine, Duchenne, smiles, had lower heart rates after recovering from the stressful activities. Those who were trained to smile by manipulating their facial muscles around the chopsticks in their mouths (but weren’t explicitly told to smile) also showed a positive stress reduction compared to those who held a neutral expression.
The findings from the study suggest that whether we’re genuinely happy or not, smiling may be a means to help our bodies cope with stressful situations. "The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress," says Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas, "you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment.”
Keep that smile bright and cheerful: