Ground-breaking research from the University of South Australia confirms that the act of smiling can trick your mind into being more positive, simply by moving your facial muscles.
Since government restrictions put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an alarming rise in anxiety and depression amongst Australians and around the world. However, the study, published in Experimental Psychology, evaluated the impact of a covert smile on perception of face and body expressions. In both scenarios, a smile was induced by participants holding a pen between their teeth, forcing their facial muscles to replicate the movement of a smile.
The research found that facial muscular activity not only alters the recognition of facial expressions but also body expressions, with both generating more positive emotions.
Lead researcher and human and artificial cognition expert, University of South Australia’s Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos says the finding has important insights for mental health.
“When your muscles say you’re happy, you’re more likely to see the world around you in a positive way,” Dr Fernando says.
“In our research we found that when you forcefully practise smiling, it stimulates the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state.”
“For mental health, this has interesting implications. If we can trick the brain into perceiving stimuli as ‘happy’, then we can potentially use this mechanism to help boost mental health.”
The findings demonstrate a strong link between action and perception. So perhaps there is more to the term “fake it ‘til you make it” than previously thought.