Is it possible for a smile to put you in better spirits -- and help your heart function too -- even if you don't really feel like smiling? Or perhaps more remarkable, even if you don't know you're smiling?
Tough though it may be to believe, that's what new research conducted by psychologists from the University of Kansas seems to be showing. Slated for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, the study found that when students were asked to perform stressful tasks, their heart rates returned to normal more quickly if their faces were arranged in a smiling position by holding chopsticks between their teeth. Two different types of smiles were tested: a broad smile, and a more muted one, as well as a neutral face.
Past research has found similar areas of the brain are stimulated during smiling, whether the smile is spontaneous or triggered deliberately.
Co-authors Sarah Pressman and Tara Kraft say their research suggests that donning a smile in the midst of a brief stressor (a traffic jam, or grocery lineup) might help you relax, and tolerate the inconvenience a little more easily.
Tara L. Kraft and Sarah D. Pressman. "Grin and bear it: The influence of manipulated facial expression on the stress response." For publication in Psychological Science, 2012.
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