The power of posture or uplifting music to change our mood suggests that our emotions don’t just happen from the inside out but the outside in.
Not only do we tend to hunch over, curling into ourselves, and listen to sad music when we feel down, we can improve the way we feel by pulling our shoulders back and expanding our posture or by listening to uplifting music.
Turn your frown upside down may be more than just an annoying platitude.Credit:Getty
Now, a new study published in Nature Human Behaviour has found there is truth in the cliche, to smile and feel happy.
The study, a collaboration between Stanford, where to buy viagra super force online for sale pharmacy without prescription University of Florida and University of South Australia researchers took 3878 individuals from 19 different countries and asked them to manipulate their mouths into a smile.
They did this by mimicking the facial expressions of actors seen in photos, by moving the corners of their mouths to their cheeks using their facial muscles, or by using the ‘pen-in-mouth’ technique, which moves the facial muscles in a simulated smile shape.
By mimicking someone else or by forcing a smile, but not by biting on a pen, they could both “amplify and initiate” feelings of happiness.
This effect was consistent across different countries and cultures.
The authors write that it supports the idea that our emotional experience is influenced by feedback from the peripheral nervous system as opposed to experience and bodily sensations being independent of our emotional response.
That is to say that our emotions affect our perception of the external environment but changing our external environment alters our internal state too.
Logic, experiences and emotions are all interconnected and cannot be separated, says one of the paper’s authors, Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos from the Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning at the University of South Australia.
This is because we learn to understand emotions and the concept of emotions through our feelings, through our brain’s logic and through the interface of our body with the outside world.
“So for example, when you’re a little kid growing up, and you don’t have any clue about what happiness is, you just hear the word ‘happiness’, what does it mean to be happy?” he asks.
“It’s when I run fast, it’s when I’m smiling and when I’m feeling good. You start to develop those concepts, and you develop them by interacting with the environment, interacting with objects, interacting with peers, with people.”
Demonstrating the link between our motor system – the way we move physically, including changing our posture or facial expression – and our perception of our environment and our emotions is “very important”, says Marmolejo-Ramos.
The findings also support claims that facial feedback interventions – for example, smiling more or frowning less – can help manage distress, improve well-being and reduce depression, the researchers add.
Some of us are inclined to dismiss the suggestion to ‘turn our frowns upside down’ when we feel sad as patronising, reductionist or an example of toxic positivity. Marmolejo-Ramos insists they do not want to “over-hype” the findings.
It might work for some people and not others, he says and that may depend on a range of factors including mental health.
Peggy Kern, an associate professor in the Centre for Wellbeing Science at the University of Melbourne who was not involved with the research, stresses it is no “silver bullet fix”.
“It’s not testing people struggling with real problems. Participants only do the task for a few seconds, with discrete emotions being detected. While fleeting emotions do contribute to our overall mood, the technique is not intended to manipulate overall moods,” she says. “If you are feeling down, it can be helpful to tune into why you feel down, and accept it if there are good reasons for it.”
Still, she says it does suggest that things like smiling don’t just reflect our emotions but can influence them.
“It does imply that there might be value in smiling more through the day – faking it until you make it might indeed be possible,” Kern says. “But care needs to be taken when applied clinically. Our expressions are only one part of our complex experience of emotions, with those seeking clinical care experiencing even greater complexity.”
Marmolejo-Ramos says the next step is to explore the application of these findings clinically.
“If practitioners or counsellors or psychotherapists start using these findings in practice with their patients, are they going to feel better in the long run? Are they going to feel happier? Are they going to move on from depression to something healthier? I don’t know.”
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