Why You Should Grin And Bear It – The Psychological Benefits of Smiling When Facing Stress
Christopher Philip

Researchers Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman, University of Kansas have found real evidence to support the idea that people really do successfully “grin and bear it” when it comes to dealing with difficult and uncomfortable situations.

In their study, they had subjects endure two different stressful tasks while either holding chopsticks in their mouths to induce either a Duchenne smile, a standard smile, or a neutral expression. Half the participants in the smiling group were asked to actually smile, while the others were not explicitly asked to do so (only led that way with the help of the chopsticks).

The Duchenne smiles were induced by placing the chopsticks from left to right in their mouth (like a dog would traditionally hold a bone) forcing the cheeks up. The neutral smiles were created by placing the chopstick with its length aimed out and away from the mouth. This permitted participants to adopt a neutral expression, but still have the chopstick in their mouth to maintain similar treatment across groups. Recall, also that one set in the neutral group were also actually told to smile.

Results found that all of the smiling subjects received benefit from smiling, regardless of whether they were instructed to do so, or manipulated to do with the chopsticks. However, those holding the Duchennes smiles slightly outperformed the other smilers.

What benefit was received?

The smilers had lower heart rates during stress recovery. The group who were not asked to smile also suffered less in terms of affect than did the neutral group.

“These findings show that there are both physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress,” say the researchers in their paper.

Resources

Kraft, Tara L. and Sarah D. Pressman. Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response. Psychological Science. 2012. 23(11): 1372-1378.