Even a fake smile can make you happy

Even a fake smile can make you happy
An international group of scientists, with the participation of ELTE PPK researchers, analyzed the data of nearly 4,000 people and proved that an artificially produced smile induces real, natural happiness. The results are valid regardless of culture, according to the study published in the Nature Human Behavior journal.

For nearly hundred years, researchers have been asking whether the body’s signals are the key determinant of emotion. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma: do you feel happy first and then smile, or does smiling make you happy? Proponents of mimic feedback theory (technically termed the facial feedback hypothesis) believe that voluntary muscle activity, especially facial muscle activity, plays a role in developing emotional experiences. In fact, in the 1960s, it was found that people who were asked to make happy facial expressions reported better moods than those who were asked to make other facial expressions. However, this effect has only been demonstrated with varying degrees of success.

Therefore, the question is: does a smile on our face make us happier? A group of scientists called the Many Smiles Collaboration had launched an extensive new study to end decades of debate. The research, led by Nicolas A. Coles (University of Stanford), was carried out with the participation of Tamás Nagy, Assistant Professor, Balázs Aczél, Associate Professor and Nándor Hajdú, Assistant Professor, ELTE PPK.

The survey included nearly 4,000 people from 19 countries, who were asked to perform various tasks: first, the researchers showed them photos of smiling actors and asked them to imitate the facial expressions they saw. After evaluating the task, the volunteers were asked to hold a pen in their mouths in a way that either made them smile (the pen was held with their teeth) or prevented them from smiling (the pen was held with their lips). Meanwhile, half of the participants were shown a series of positive images. At the end of the experiment, everyone filled out a questionnaire about their level of happiness.

After the first analyses, the researchers found that the happier facial expression improved the mood or increased happiness. However, this could also be caused by the fact that the feeling of happiness decreased after neutral poses, such as boredom. To exclude confounding factors like this and ensure the results’ reliability, the researchers performed multiple measurements and provided a control situation for each task. In addition, they also considered whether the individual participants knew the phenomenon of facial feedback and how faithfully they managed to follow the experimental instructions.

When the data were analyzed, it was found that participants reported the highest levels of happiness after the imitation task. At the same time, the pen exercise resulted in much lower levels of positive emotions. The study confirmed that the artificially recorded happy facial expressions induce and enhance happiness. The results are valid regardless of culture, i.e. from America to Hungary to Kenya and Japan; participants everywhere became happier when they adopted a smiling facial expression.

The original article is available at the following link.