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Psychological Science journal, Published August 05 2012

Hot topic: Researchers examine benefits of smiling

Feeling good usually makes us smile, but does it work the other way around?

In a study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas, investigate the potential benefits of smiling by looking at how different types of smiling, and the awareness of smiling, affects individuals’ ability to recover from episodes of stress.

“Age old adages, such as ‘grin and bear it’ have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life’s stressful events,” says Kraft. “We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits.”

Smiles are generally divided into two categories: standard smiles, which use the muscles surrounding the mouth, and genuine or Duchenne smiles, which engage the muscles surrounding both the mouth and eyes.

Previous research shows that positive emotions can help during times of stress and that smiling can affect emotion; however, the work of Kraft and Pressman is the first of its kind to experimentally manipulate the types of smiles people make in order to examine the effects of smiling on stress.