Grin And Bear It – Researchers Say Smiling Can Alleviate Stress

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online
Smiling and laughing is said to be contagious among people. Smiling could possibly even have a positive effect on the body. Psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman from the University of Kansas recently looked at the possible benefits of smiling.
In general, positive feelings can make people smile but the researchers wanted to investigate whether the action of smiling led to more positive emotions. The findings are featured in the upcoming edition of Psychological Science. They looked at the different variations on smiling and how the awareness of smiling can influence an individual´s ability to recover from intense periods of stress.
“Age old adages, such as ‘grin and bear it’ have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life’s stressful events,” explained Kraft in a prepared statement. “We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits.”
The researchers describe how smiles can be split into two categories. Standard smiles, which utilize the muscles around the mouth, are one type. Duchenne smiles, otherwise known as general smiles that use the muscles around the mouth and eyes, are another type of smile. While past studies have demonstrated that positive emotions can relieve anxiety during stressful moments and the act of smiling can influence emotion, the research by Kraft and Pressman is the first to use experiments to manipulate the kinds of smiles people use to look at the impact that smiling has on stress.
In the project, 169 participants from a Midwestern university became involved in two phases. In the first phase, known as training, the participants were placed into three groups and each group was taught to have a different facial expression. The different expressions included a Duchenne smile, a standard smile, and a neutral smile. Chopsticks were used in the study to make people smile without making them aware that they were actually smiling.
In the second phase, known as the testing phase, the participants completed a variety of multitasking activities. The participants didn´t know that the activities were going to be stressful. In the first activity, participants were asked to use their non-dominant hand to trace a star. In the second activity, they were made to place a hand in ice water. During the two stressful tasks, the subjects were made to use the chopsticks in their mouth as they were trained. The researchers then measured the participants´ heart rates and had them report their stress level throughout the testing period.
Through the study, the investigators saw that smiling can possibly affect an individual´s physical state. Participants who were asked to smile, especially those with Duchenne smiles, had lower heart levels after the stressful activity as opposed to those who had neutral facial expressions. As such, the researchers believe that smiling during stressful periods can assist in lowering the intensity of the body´s stress response.
“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,” noted Pressman in the statement. “Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well!”

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