When you’re having a bad day and feeling sad, making this one easy move can turn it all around. It’s the last thing you think of doing when your heart’s not in it—but turning that frown upside down is more than just a catchy saying.
Researchers from the University of South Australia have proven that where your muscles go, your mood follows. For this experiment, participants’ facial muscles were mapped while they held a pen between their teeth and later when they did not have a pen between their teeth. Keeping the pen between their teeth simulated the act of smiling to the facial muscles.
When the participants were asked to watch people walking in biological point suits which were lit up, they tended to believe that the walkers were happy when they watched while the pen was in their teeth. Some of the point-lit motion images were of people acting out sad emotions versus happy emotions; but this mattered less than how the person watching was moving their own facial muscles.
When the participants held the pen just pursed in their lips, they did not perceive the other walkers as happy, illustrating that when our facial muscles trick us into believing we are happy, we perceive others around us as being happy too.
The study demonstrates that the muscular activity of facial muscles can change how we feel about other people’s faces, and now their bodies. Forcing the muscles of the face into a smile stimulates the emotional regulator of the brain and actually starts a cascade of emotionally positive neurotransmitters from the amygdala.
We can all easily incorporate the act of smiling to brighten our days, but this new study hopes that it could be elaborated upon in areas of mental health where the brain needs to perceive visual input in a positive way. This could be as simple as retraining the brain by having a person force a smile by holding a pen between their teeth and exposing them to the stimuli.
Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos, Aiko Murata, Kyoshiro Sasaki, et al.. Your Face and Moves Seem Happier When I Smile. Experimental Psychology, 2020; 67 (1): 14 DOI: 10.1027/1618-3169/a000470