Nav: Home

Psychologists find smiling really can make people happier

April 11, 2019

Smiling really can make people feel happier, according to a new paper published in Psychological Bulletin.

Coauthored by researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Texas A&M, the paper looked at nearly 50 years of data testing whether facial expressions can lead people to feel the emotions related to those expressions.

"Conventional wisdom tells us that we can feel a little happier if we simply smile. Or that we can get ourselves in a more serious mood if we scowl," said Nicholas Coles, UT PhD student in social psychology and lead researcher on the paper. "But psychologists have actually disagreed about this idea for over 100 years."

These disagreements became more pronounced in 2016, when 17 teams of researchers failed to replicate a well-known experiment demonstrating that the physical act of smiling can make people feel happier.

"Some studies have not found evidence that facial expressions can influence emotional feelings," Coles said. "But we can't focus on the results of any one study. Psychologists have been testing this idea since the early 1970s, so we wanted to look at all the evidence."

Using a statistical technique called meta-analysis, Coles and his team combined data from 138 studies testing more than 11,000 participants from all around the world. According to the results of the meta-analysis, facial expressions have a small impact on feelings. For example, smiling makes people feel happier, scowling makes them feel angrier, and frowning makes them feel sadder.

"We don't think that people can smile their way to happiness," Coles said. "But these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion. We still have a lot to learn about these facial feedback effects, but this meta-analysis put us a little closer to understanding how emotions work."
-end-
The study, "A Meta-Analysis of the Facial Feedback Literature: Effects of Facial Feedback on Emotional Experience Are Small and Variable," is co-authored by Jeff Larsen, professor of psychology at UT, and Heather Lench of Texas A&M University. The research is supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awarded to Coles.

CONTACT:

Brian Canever (865-974-0937, bcanever@utk.edu)

Andrea Schneibel (865-974-3993, andrea.schneibel@utk.edu)

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Related Smile Articles:

How can you reliably spot a fake smile? Ask a computer
Real and fake smiles can be tricky to tell apart, but researchers at the University of Bradford have now developed computer software that can spot false facial expressions.
Emotion-detection applications built on outdated science, report warns
Software that purportedly reads emotions in faces is being deployed or tested for a variety of purposes, including surveillance, hiring, clinical diagnosis, and market research.
Was Mona Lisa's smile a lie?
Using chimeric, or mirror, images researchers have determined that one half of Mona Lisa's smile displays happiness while the other half is neutral reflecting a non-genuine emotion.
The healing power of a smile: A link between oral care and substance abuse recovery
A new study links the benefits of comprehensive oral care to the physical and emotional recovery of patients seeking treatment for substance use disorder.
Pediatric endocrinologist gives iconic 'Mona Lisa' a second medical opinion
Michael Yafi, MD, refutes the most recent hypothesis that 'Lisa' had hypothyroidism and psychomotor retardation.
Psychologists find smiling really can make people happier
Smiling really can make people feel happier, according to a new paper published in Psychological Bulletin.
Forcing a smile for customers linked with more drinking after work
Employees who force themselves to smile and be happy in front of customers -- or who try to hide feelings of annoyance -- may be at risk for heavier drinking after work, according to researchers.
Whites struggle to tell real from fake smiles on black faces
White people and non-black minorities have a harder time telling the difference between genuine and fake smiles on black faces than they do on white faces, a problem black people don't have, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
'Bionic face' experiments could lead to new treatment approach for facial paralysis
An implantable neuroprosthetic device may one day provide a new approach to restoring more natural facial movement in patients with one-sided facial paralysis (hemifacial palsy), suggests a study in the January issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
Smiling doesn't necessarily mean you're happy
Smiling does not necessarily indicate that we are happy, according to new research at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS).
More Smile News and Smile Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.