Over the last few days I have been communing with Micki Rose on the subject of smiles. In the light of January’s ‘Black Monday’ and ‘Dreary Tuesday’, not to mention her own on going sensitivity problems, we were thinking, based on no more research than what we both vaguely remembered hearing about its benefits, of adopting smiling as THE therapy for 2014.
Micki’s theory was that the brain could not actually tell the difference between a fake smile and a real one, as all the same muscles are used, precipitating all the same physiological and psychological benefits. So what we need to do on a regular basis is to look at ourselves in a mirror and force ourselves to smile!
Well, there seemed to be worse ways of taking a break from one’s computer every half an hour or so I got everyone in the office to try it. Smiling rota – every 15 minutes someone needs to be in front of a mirror smiling! The bonus to this rather daft edict is that you feel such a Charley standing in front of a mirror grinning inanely at yourself that you end up not only smiling quite naturally, but positively laughing!
Anyhow, thinking that I should share this harmless bit of ‘feel goodery’ with my new blog, I thought I would just check up to see whether there was any science behind this theory and – goodness me – people have been researching it for years!
Almost first up I found an article by Sarah Stevenson in Psychology Today which provided a good clutch of studies to show that:
1. Smiling activates neuropeptides which stimulate the release of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin all of which relax you, message your whole body that you are happy and lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
2. Said neurotransmitters also act as natural pain relievers, should you need pain relief.
3. The boost in serotonin levels acts as a side-effect-free anti-depressant.
4. When you smile you treat people, and are treated by them, differently. ‘An attractive smiling face activates your orbitofrontal cortex, the region in your brain that process sensory rewards. This suggests that when you view a person smiling, you actually feel rewarded.’
5. You are more attractive to other people when you smile – a finding from the Face Research Laboratory at the University of Aberdeen.
6. Smiling is contagious. If you smile at someone they will find it very hard to frown in return as ‘the part of your brain that is responsible for your facial expression of smiling when happy or mimicking another’s smile resides in the cingulate cortex, an unconscious automatic response area’.
7. As a result, every time you smile at someone, their unconscious reaction is to smile back thus setting up a mutual release of chirpy, happy chemicals in both your brains!
OK, that all works for ‘real’ smiles, but what about fake ones. University of Kansas to the fore. In a study published in Psychological Science but also reported here with images, the researchers divided 170 students into three groups and tested their heart rate response to stressful tasks when they were smiling naturally, faking a smile and not smiling at all.
The heart rates of the genuinely smiling students were the quickest to drop after the tasks were completed, the fake smilers came next and those who did not smile at all had the slowest return to a relaxed heart beat. However the researchers made the point that their fake smilers were using exactly the same muscles as the genuine smilers. An earlier study involving bus drivers had suggested that forcing a smile could actually make you feel more depressed than when you started, but did not specify what muscles the bus drivers were using for their fake smiles.
(If you wish to make yourself smile even more you could take the ‘body language quiz’ linked from the second report on the Berkeley site. I just hope that American facial expressions really do differ from British ones as I managed to get virtually everyone wrong which does not say much for my ’emotional intelligence’!!)
Anyhow, enough, my turn in the rota has arrived – off to the mirror to have a good smile! Why not join me?….. And if you do, please tell me if you feel better!