Health knowledge and news provided by doctors.

Does smiling do more than 'turn a frown upside down'?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Smiling is good for stress and good for the heart finds a first study.

We all smile when we feel good, but could be possible that smiling can make us feel good? That’s the question that psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas recently investigated. The researchers wanted to see if there was any truth to the age-old advice “grin and bear it”.

First study of its kind shows smiling has health benefits

In a first study of its kind, Kraft and Pressman looked at whether smiling during a stressful situation has health benefits.

The two scientists measured study participant’s response to stress. The subjects were trained to hold different facial expressions in one phase of the experiment and then tested during a second phase see how they physiologically responded to assigned stressful tasks.

For the training, 169 people were divided into 3 groups. One was trained to hold chopsticks in their mouth to force them to hold a neutral facial expression, another in a way that mimics standard smile that engages just the muscles around the mouth, and the third group a genuine or Duchenne smile that engage the muscles surrounding both the mouth and eyes.

During the test; with the chopsticks in their mouths, the participants were asked to multitask, but they didn’t know the exercises were designed to cause stress.

Follow eMaxHealth on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
Please, click to subscribe to our Youtube Channel to be notified about upcoming health and food tips.

In one test, the group submerged their hand in ice water. For the other they were asked to look at a star in the mirror and draw an outline with their non-dominant hand.

During the test, researchers measured the participant’s heart rates and perceived level of stress.

The group trained to use muscles engaged in a genuine smile had lower heart rates during recovery, showing smiling actually does help us feel better when we’re faced with challenges. It’s also good for the heart.

"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. Not only will it help you 'grin and bear it' psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well”, Pressman said in a media release.

The finding shows smiling that engages all of the muscles of the face including the eye area is good for the heart; relieves stress and does more than just ‘turn a frown upside down’.

Association for Psychological Science
July 30,2012

Image credit: Morguefile