If You Can’t Muster a Real Smile, Researchers Suggest You ‘Fake it till you make it’

If You Can’t Muster a Real Smile, Researchers Suggest You ‘Fake it till you make it’

‘Fake it till you make it’ is an aphorism that suggests that by imitating confidence or an optimistic mindset, a person can realize those qualities in their real life.

A new study from researchers at the University of South Australia have confirmed that the very act of smiling by simply moving your facial muscles, can actually trick your mind into being more positive.

The study, published in Experimental Psychology, evaluated the impact of a covert smile on perception of face and body expressions. In both scenarios, a smile was induced by participants holding a pen between their teeth, forcing their facial muscles to replicate the movement of a smile.

The results found that facial muscular activity generates more positive emotions.

Lead researcher and human and artificial cognition expert, UniSA’s Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos says the finding has important insights for mental health.

“When your muscles say you’re happy, you’re more likely to see the world around you in a positive way,” Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says.

“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.

“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.”

The study replicated findings from an older ‘covert’ smile experiment by evaluating how people interpret a range of facial expressions (spanning from frowns to smiles) using the pen-in-teeth mechanism. It then extended this using point-light motion images (spanning from sad walking videos to happy walking videos) as the visual stimuli.

Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says there is a strong link between action and perception.

“In a nutshell, perceptual and motor systems are intertwined when we emotionally process stimuli,” Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says.

“A ‘fake it ’til you make it’ approach could have more credit than we expect.”

So how about it? Maybe it’s time for all of us, no matter how we’re feeling, to get our grin on.