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How Our Facial Expressions Affect Our Own Feelings

Updated on August 6, 2017

Facial Expressions and Our Emotions

We human beings are complex creatures. We think, we feel, we perceive, we react in order to survive in a world where we are vulnerable to our surroundings.

We are innately designed to pick up the emotions of those around us. We unconsciously do this by watching other people's movements and facial expressions. New research is also showing that our own facial expressions can affect our own emotions.

Charles Darwin and Facial Expressions

In 1872, Charles Darwin published his book called The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. In his book, Darwin showed emotion is part of man’s evolutionary history by showing human beings and animals show some similar and universal facial expressions. He recognized even back then, that simulating the emotion will arouse it in our mind. Since then, psychologists and scientists have done research to support Darwin’s theory. William James, known as the father of psychology, in 1884 wrote about how our facial and body gestures can influence our emotions.

Our Faces and Our Feelings

Psychologist, Paul Ekman in 1965, said our face indicates to others what our feelings are. Understanding facial signals helps others know our motivations and behavioral intentions. Being able to pick up on another person’s emotions plays a vital role as to whether we should interact with them or avoid them. Over time, psychologists have come to realize the expression on our face also influences our own emotions. In 1984 an article was published in the Journal of Science by Dr. Paul Ekman, and a team of psychologists at the University of California Medical School, San Francisco, that showed when people imitated various facial expressions, their bodies elicited specific phsysiological patterns. These were demonstrated in such changes as breathing rate and heart rate per each emotion.

Facial Feedback Hypothesis

According to some psychologists, the muscles that control our facial expressions trigger changes in our brain that lead to feel a certain feeling. The “Facial feedback hypothesis” proposes that facial expressions are not only the sign of an emotion, but are part of the feeling.

Our facial expressions influence emotions and also reflect them. According to this theory, if we frown, we will feel angry. If we smile, we will feel happy. If we make a sad face, we feel that way. Our facial expressions affect our mood. Although the theory is disputed by some, there are modest and consequential effects that facial expressions can induce a mood representative of the facial movement.

Researchers have found by simply persuading participants in the study to make a face representing an emotional expression, elicited that emotion. Further studies show that facial expressions lead to brain connections, which can lead to changes in mood.

How Blood Flow Affects Our Emotions

According Dr. Robert Zajonc, psychologist at the University of Michigan, our facial muscles relax and tighten, it affects the temperature of the blood that flows to the brain, which influence the activity in the emotional centers of the brain. Volunteers were told to repeat various vowel sounds. When they said a long “e”, which induced a smile, they felt happier. When they said “ah”, they felt surprised.

The theory proposed by Dr. Zajonc is a biochemical process causes changes in the body from the brains chemical messengers, the neurons and neurotransmitters which regulate body temperature. Dr. Zajonc believes the facial muscles and its connection to the body. The main artery that supplies blood to the brain is the internal carotid artery. This artery flows through sinuses in the face.

When the facial muscles tighten and stretch, the blood flow to the sinuses change. This causes changes in the temperature of blood flow to the brain, especially the hypothalamus, which regulates emotion and our body’s reaction to cold and hot. When we smile, our muscles tighten in our cheeks, which decreases the flow of blood in the sinuses, cooling the blood flowing to the brain. When we scowl or frown, different facial muscles tighten, allowing more blood into the sinus, heating the blood flowing to the brain.

Research Studies About Facial Expressions and Emotions

In an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a group of psychologists Clark University, demonstrated how facial muscles representing a certain emotion produced that feeling in the people in the study.

Volunteers were given instruction to raise their eyebrows, or open their eyes wide, or to move their head back and open their mouth a little and tuck in their chin, and other instructions for several emotions. The participants were not told that the study was testing their emotions or that they were mimicking an expression. Overall, the participants mood corresponded to the facial expressions they were asked to do.

In another research project in 1988, German researchers, Strack, Martin, and Stepper induced happy feelings while the study subjects held a small pen clenched between their teeth to imitate a smile. When the participants held the pen with their lips protruding, like they were pouting, they said they felt unhappy.

Botox and Its Effects on Our Emotions

Our facial expressions affect how our emotions are registered in our brain. Using MRIs, scientists cand see there is less brain activity in the cerebral cortex when we are angry. The cerebral cortex is associated with empathy and decision making.

Botox, which is used as a wrinkle reducer when it's injected into muscles in the face paralyzes the muscles and causes the wrinkles to relax. The side effects of botox treatment are showing people can't fully express their emotions. If they can't fully smile, and they can't really show their anger. New research has developed which shows the side of the side effects also revealed that people who can't show their emotions can't feel their emotions. If you can't move your facial muscles you won't feel the emotion that goes with that gesture. Botox is also now being used to help depressed people feel less depressed.

In a study done by David Havas or psychologist at the University of Wisconsin Karma people who were given Botox treatments to prevent them from frowning, were used in a study to see if Restricting facial muscles inhibited emotions. David Havas gave participants instructions to smile. it was shown that these people had a hard time generating a feeling of anger. When he had them frown they hard time feeling happy. This research found when facial expressions are suppressed, it decreases the intensity of the experienced emotion.

To understand affects how we actually feel the emotion, Dr.Havas had participants read statements before the treatments, and then 2 weeks after they had the Botox. Havas wanted to see how quickly a participant could interpret the emotion expressed by the statement. The people in the study had no change in how long it took them to understand happy statements. This fit since the botox was given for frown lines. The study showed the participants took longer to read and comprehend the angry and sad statements. This study showed our facial expression relates to our understanding of our emotions. This also means that people who have received botox are going to have a harder time reading the people around them. Eric Finzi in his book How Botox Affects Our Moods and Relationships, wrote about numbed expressions, lessens our emotions, good and bad. People who had botox treatment for depression, felt less depressed, but also had less feelings of happiness. In another study done by David Neal and Tanya Chartrand, They found that people who took Botox treatments we're not able to copy the face of the person they were speaking with and there for her trouble feeling empathy for them. When we unconsciously mimic the facial expression of the person we are listening to, our brain helps us understand the other person's emotional intent. Women who received Botox treatment had a much more difficult time identifying facial expressions of people from pictures because it's believed they couldn't make the face. Study after study shows that Botox and plastic surgery may have emotional repercussions. When our face numbs, it causes our feelings to numb.

Botox Affects Our Emotions

The side effects of botox treatment are showing people can't fully express their emotions. If they can't fully smile, and they can't really show their anger. New research has developed which shows the side of the side effects also revealed that people who can't show their emotions can't feel their emotions. If you can't move your facial muscles you won't feel the emotion that goes with that gesture. Botox is also now being used to help depressed people feel less depressed.

Answer This Question About Facial Expressions

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The Physical Effects When we Move Our Face

Our facial muscles are controlled by nerves that follow a complex system of pathways to and from I the motor cortex, the limbic system, and the brain stem.A voluntary smile creates a reaction in the motor cortex is under our conscious control. A spontaneous smile is not under our conscious control and would affect the limbic system and brain stem. This may give some explanation why people’s faces can express emotions without them being aware of it.

The facial muscles are made up of about 20 flat muscles just under the skin, positioned around our facial openings: eyes, ears, nose, and mouth or stretch across our skull and neck. The muscles around the mouth are connected to the facial nerve. As these muscles are activated, the brain receives messages from these movements. Neurotransmitters release chemicals from the pituitary gland, the brain, the spinal cord, and hypothalamus, creating an emotional state. Just moving our face creates a chemical reaction, which brings on the feeling. For example, when we smile, whether voluntary or involuntary, those muscles trigger endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. The release of these neurotransmitters actually help us feel a little happier. Even our blood pressure is lowered.

Our Facial expressions all the result of a connection between interconnected motor areas of the brain and the amygdala. This creates physiological responses from the facial expressions. Is believed facial expressions create a loop that carries out parallel and reciprocal transformations between sensory and motor systems. Even though facial expression can be produced in the absence of emotion, the brain still reacts as if there was an emotion to cause the facial expression.

Facial Expressions

Although there are debates about this research, it does seem our own facial expressions, even though we can’t see them, seem to affect how we feel. So the next time you want to change your feeling, try making a face and feel what happens.

Learn More About Facial Expressions


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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 5 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I have always believed this, but it is interesting to see that there is evidence that it really works!

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 months ago

      Thanks Peggy for reading my hub. I appreciate your positive comments

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 months ago

      Hi DLayne. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate your input

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 months ago

      Hi Heidi. Thank you for sharing. I am glad you enjoyed my hub.

    • profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 months ago

      Very interesting article particularly the part about how Botox can affect feelings.

    • DLayne profile image

      DLayne Lawson 5 months ago from Cincinnati, OH

      I read about this connection in one of my psychology courses. At the same time though, our own feelings definitely affect our facial expressions.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

      Super interesting, especially about the temperature issue. Very informative. Sharing!