Studies Show: Fake a Smile When Stressed for Solid Health Wins

/Studies Show: Fake a Smile When Stressed for Solid Health Wins

Studies Show: Fake a Smile When Stressed for Solid Health Wins

Feel Bad?
Perk Up!
It’s an Opportunity to
Do Something Wonderful
for Yourself

Self-medicating with fake smiles

isn’t as much fun as Haagen Dazs or going shopping, but you’ll feel better faster, won’t wear your mood on your hips and your budget will thank you. That’s a lot of really great stuff and we haven’t even gotten to the science yet!


Talk about non-sequiturs . . .

Five reasons to carry chopsticks in your purse:

  1. You can bite down on them to force a smile
  2. A forced smile changes brain activity to put you in a happier mood
  3. A fake smile lowers heart rate
  4. Forcing a smile reduces stress
  5. If you do it in public, those around you will have a lifted mood too!


Brain Brief

In an experiment that’s smile-worthy in it’s own right, researchers handed 169 participants a set of chopsticks and told them to bite down and smile as they stuck their hands in ice water. Read on!

Chopstick Smiles

Neutral ….,,,,,,,,……. Standard …………….. Duchenne

Tara Kraft Ph.D and lead author of this story’s feature study wondered if the age-old adage “grin and bear it” has any scientific merit. Is it true that smiling when times are tough produces measurable health benefits?

To find out, Kraft and her team recruited 169 volunteers and divided them into three groups. Each group was instructed to hold chopsticks in their mouths with varying amounts of pressure so as to engage facial muscles involved in smiling. The least amount of pressure produces a neutral expression while moderate pressure activates muscles that form a standard smile. Biting hard adds eye muscles to the mix to produce what’s called a Duchenne smile. These really big grins have an  interesting story involving severed heads taken from French guillotines. More on that later.

Participants were NOT told they were mimicking smiles with the chopsticks.

After training the groups in chopstick holding, the participants were divided into halves and given two stress inducing tasks to perform. One half was told to smile while performing the tasks while the other half remained unaware their smile muscles were engaged.

The first job was to place their non-dominant hand in a box and race the outlines of a star using a mirror image as  guide. The second was a cold pressor test designed to shock the cardiovascular system. Participants plunged their hand into ice water for a full minute. Ouch! Their heart rates and self-reported stress levels were recorded during testing.


Those who were told to smile during the tasking had the lowest heart rates after recovery and reported the mildest stress levels. Both those who were told to smile Duchenne-size as well as those who were unaware they were smiling experienced the mildest stress effects(1).

So what do these results mean to you?

Two things:

  1. Paul Ekman published The Duchenne Smile Emotional Expression and Brain Physiology in 1990 demonstrating that Duchenne smiles change brain activity resulting in uplifted moods. So smiling big can make you happy.
  2. When you consciously fake a Duchenne smile while stressed, you’ll gain the most health benefits.

Just lift the corners of your mouth when stressed and you’ll get happier and healthier!

Just try it — It works! I promise!

(1) Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman. Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Positive Facial Expression on the Stress Response. Psychological Science, 2012 

Laughter makes carpal tunnel surgery recovery go faster too!

Wonder if you can spot a fake smile?
Visit the BBC website and take the test!

Chinese flight attendants train with chopsticks to learn the perfect graceful smile.

As do Chinese nurses!

Duchenne smiles, electrical probes and the guillotine

This story is decidedly creepy.

During the 19th century there was a revival of a pseudo-science named physiognomy originating in ancient Greece that held a person’s character could be determined by her facial appearance. A French scientist named Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne took up the cause believing that facial muscles are directly linked to a person’s soul. He figured out a way to study facial muscles by attaching electrical probes to contract muscles into distorted and grotesque expressions which he caught with the newly invented camera.

The problem was that the probes were really painful. Luckily, he found the perfect experimental subject in an “old toothless man, with a thin face, whose features, without being absolutely ugly, approached ordinary triviality” who suffered for a rare condition leaving him unable to feel pain in his face.

Duchenne published his findings in 1862 along with the extraordinary photographs in the book, Mecanisme de la physionomie Humaine (The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression).

Among his discoveries are the two sets of muscles that control the way we genuinely smile: the zygomatic major muscles which run down the side of the face and connect to the corners of the mouth, and the orbicularis oculi muscles that pull back the eyes. The smile these muscles produce are named Duchenne in his honor.

Check out the Wikepedia article on Duchenne de Boulogne for fun.

Now for the guillotine part.

Duchenne’s electrical probes were far too painful for normal people to withstand, so he collected the recently severed heads of people executed by guillotine for his experiments. He had to work quickly though, because the facial nerves conducted electricity for only a few hours after death.

Believe it or not.

By | 2019-03-09T01:01:46+00:00 August 22nd, 2017|Laughter as Medicine, Lifestyle Science|0 Comments

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