There’s little more frustrating than being told to smile when you’re feeling miserable, but new research published in the journal Experimental Psychology has found that faking a smile can act on the parts of our brain linked to mood, improving our outlook. Led by researchers at the University of South Australia, the study confirmed that forcing a smile can essentially trick the mind into receiving the facial expressions and body language of others more positively, which in turn boosts our own mood. I guess the “fake it ‘till you make it” approach holds more water than we realized.
In the experiment, the researchers gathered a group of participants and asked them to place a pen between their teeth. If you try doing this yourself now, you’ll notice holding a pen forces your face into a smile. They then asked the participants to evaluate the facial expression and movements of other people, sometimes with the pen in their mouth and sometimes without.
The results showed that the pen-in-mouth people viewed the facial expressions and movements of others in a more positive light than those sans-pen. By forcing the face into a smile, the experiment was able to improve the outlook of participants irrespective of their mental state. The findings showed that smiling not only alters how we see facial expressions but also how we read body expressions, with both generating more positive emotions within us.
"When your muscles say you're happy, you're more likely to see the world around you in a positive way," said Dr Marmolejo-Ramos in a statement, lead researcher on the study and a human and artificial cognition expert. "In our research we found that when you forcefully practice smiling, it stimulates the amygdala – the emotional center of the brain – which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state.
"For mental health, this has interesting implications. If we can trick the brain into perceiving stimuli as 'happy', then we can potentially use this mechanism to help boost mental health."
Well, I guess there's only one thing to do then...