The study involved 256 volunteers from Japan, Poland, Spain and Sweden. Participants were asked to hold a pen between their teeth, an act that forces facial muscles to replicate the motions of a smile.
They were then shown images of facial expressions that ranged from frowning to smiling, and videos of a person walking in different positions, ranging from “sad walking” to “happy walking.”
The participants viewed each image or video with and without a pen in their teeth, and then evaluated if the evoked emotion was “happy” or “sad.”
The researchers observed that the participants were more likely to view a broader range of the images and videos as “happy” when smiling themselves.
“In our research, we found that when you forcefully practice smiling, it stimulates the amygdala — the emotional center of the brain — which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state,” Marmolejo-Ramos said in a university news release.
The results suggest that everyone, and particularly those suffering from mental health issues like anxiety and depression, may benefit from the simple act of smiling.
“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,” Marmolejo-Ramos said. “A ‘fake it till you make it’ approach could have more credit than we expect.”
The study was published recently in the journal Experimental Psychology.
Mental Health America has tips for boosting your mental health.
SOURCE: University of South Australia, news release, Aug. 12, 2020