Smiling Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Scientists conducted an experiment which tested the effects of an old adage to ‘grin and bear it.’ Research psychologists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman at the University of Kansas wanted to find out whether there were differences in stress levels when people who are undergoing difficult tasks are forced to smile, genuinely smiling or just keeping a neutral expression.
For the study, 169 university students were enrolled, divided into 3 groups and initially trained to hold different facial expressions. To generate these expressions, volunteers were trained to hold chopsticks in their mouths in such a way that they forced facial muscles to create a neutral facial expression, a standard smile (which used only muscles surrounding the mouth), or a Duchenne smile (a “genuine” smile which engaged muscles around the mouth and eyes). The chopsticks were necessary to force a smile without participants being aware of it.
During the testing phase, volunteers were asked to multi-task by tracing a star using their non-dominant hand while looking at a mirror image. Another task involved plunging their hand into icy water. During these tasks the participants used the chopsticks as they were trained to do so, and their heart rates were monitored. Self-reported stress levels were also taken for evaluation.
The results showed that participants who smiled had lower heart rates and were less stressed during the tasks than those who had neutral facial expressions. Stress levels were especially low for students who “genuinely” smiled. The authors therefore believe that even forcing a smile while undergoing some difficulty can help reduce stress levels.
Association for Psychological Science (2012, July 30). Grin and bear it: Smiling facilitates stress recovery. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2012.