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Girl covering face with white boards. Set of painted emotions

Nicholas Coles, social psychology PhD student at UT, explains the relationship between smiling more and feeling happier.



ANDREA SCHNEIBEL: Welcome to Science Minute, a research audiocast by the University of Tennessee. I’m Andrea Schneibel.

If you want to lift your spirits a little, here’s a simple trick that could help.

NICHOLAS COLES: Try smiling more. Research indicates that expressing happiness can actually make us feel a little bit happier.

SCHNEIBEL: That is Nicholas Coles, a social psychology PhD student at UT. He and his colleagues recently published a study on whether making facial expressions can lead people to feel the emotions related to those expressions.

Coles and his team combined nearly 50 years of data from 138 studies involving more than 11,000 participants from all around the world. For over a century, psychologists have disagreed about this topic. But Coles and his team provided the strongest evidence to date that facial expressions can influence our feelings.

COLES: It appears that the physical act of smiling can make us feel happy. That frowning can make us feel sad and that scowling can make us feel angry.

SCHNEIBEL: There is a caveat, though.

COLES: A lot of people think that you can smile your way to happiness, but these effects don’t really seem to be that powerful. We don’t think smiling is a quick fix for depression. Facial expressions like smiling can sometimes influence our emotions but not always. We really still have a lot to learn about how these effects work, but they are worth studying because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotions.

Every day that we study these facial feedback effects, we get a little bit closer to understanding how emotions work, and that’s the real reason to smile.

SCHNEIBEL: Thanks for listening to Science Minute. I’m Andrea Schneibel for the University of Tennessee.

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