Simply smiling may boost your outlook

  • Participants in a study clenched a pen between their teeth to replicate a smile
  • It was found that this 'fake smile' caused participants to view things in a more positive light
  • This has great implications for those suffering from mental health issues like anxiety and depression


Smiling can trick your mind into being more positive, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of South Australia found that the simple act of moving your facial muscles into a smile can make you view the world more positively.

"When your muscles say you're happy, you're more likely to see the world around you in a positive way," said lead researcher Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos, a human and artificial cognition expert at the university.

The motions of a smile

He and his colleagues studied how people interpret various images of facial and bodily expressions that range from happy to sad, based on whether or not they were smiling themselves.

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.

Interesting implications

"In our research, we found that when you forcefully practice smiling, it stimulates the amygdala – the emotional centre 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.

Image credit: iStock