“The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment,” says Sarah D. Pressman, PhD, from the University of Kansas, a study author of research on the potential health benefits of smiling. Findings published in Psychological Science (2012; doi: 10.1177/0956797612445312.), the journal of the Association for Psychological Science, show that the act of smiling, independent of feelings of happiness, can reduce stress.
Researchers recruited 169 college-aged students who believed that the study was about multitasking. They participated in one of three groups: a genuine-smile group, a neutral-expression group, or a “fake”-smile group (fake smilers held chopsticks in their mouths, requiring facial muscles to force a smile). Subjects were asked to make their assigned expression (or hold the chopsticks in their mouths) as they performed a variety of acts, including submerging a hand in cold water. Investigators recorded heart rate data and self-reported stress levels.
Data analysis revealed that genuine smilers had the lowest stress levels, followed by those with fake smiles. Those with neutral expressions displayed the highest stress. Study authors could not explain the underlying mechanisms for the connection between feelings and facial expression and noted that more research was needed.
Until that’s available, smile to help your heart’s health!