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Why Smiling Helps

Updated on March 8, 2011

I love a good smile.  Recently I at the airport, the desk associate looked at the old photo on my PAN card (identification check) and smiled.  I had to smile back, it really isn't a very nice photo but it better than the one on my driving license.  The smile was pleasant and the simple (sometimes irritating) task of handing over your ID proof at every step was made pleasant.

What Is A Smile

A smile is a facial expression formed by flexing the muscles near both ends of the mouth.

source | Freitas-Magalhães, A., & Castro, E. (2009). The Neuropsychophysiological Construction of the Human Smile. In A. Freitas-Magalhães (Ed.), Emotional Expression: The Brain and The Face (pp.1-18). Porto: University Fernando Pessoa Press.

I also find that smiling gets people jobs, discounts, upgrades, permission to cut lines and loans (money!).

Research has shown that a person receives more help when smiling - (Gueguen & De Gail, 2003)

Our results show that being smiled at by a stranger enhances subsequent helping behavior towards another person.

These findings are congruent with [previous research] and confirm the influence of smiling on helping behavior in a new situation. Furthermore, these findings show that smiling enhances helping behavior toward a person who is not the smiler.

These findings are congruent with other results concerning the effect of nonverbal behavior on helping behavior.

source | Guéguen, N. & De Gail, M-A. (2003). The Effect of Smiling on Helping Behavior: Smiling and Good Samaritan Behavior. Communication Reports, 16(2), 133-140.

So I though it would be fun to look at some knowledge in this area.

Why Does Smiling Help?

Robert Kraut stated:

The smile is a facial response that is recognized around the globe and helps bind people together. We are indeed a "social animal," and the smile is a central way we communicate. I once did a study that blew up in my face because I asked a group of participants not to smile for three days – and they absolutely could not do it. see more

smile research

Research In Psychology

A theory entitled the "facial feedback" hypothesis states that "involuntary facial movements provide sufficient peripheral information to drive emotional experience" (Bernstein, et al., 2000).

Davis and Palladino explain that "feedback from facial expression affects emotional expression and behavior" (2000).

One study, conducted by Levenson and Friesen, found that involuntary biological changes similar to those caused by emotions were experienced by participants who were instructed to make certain faces. That is, a person making an angry face experienced increased blood flow to the hands and feet, which is also seen in those who are experiencing anger.

Research has also found that when you mimic the face of someone else, it may cause you to feel empathy for the other person (Berstein, et al., 2000).

Cross-cultural studies have shown that smiling is a means of communicating emotions throughout the world Carroll E. Izard (1971).

Types Of Smiles

Duchenne identified two distinct types of smiles.

- A Duchenne smile involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and forms crow's feet around the eyes).

- A non-Duchenne smile involves only the zygomatic major muscle.

Duchenne, Guillaume (1990). The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression. New York: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1862).

Many believe that Duchenne smiles indicate genuine spontaneous emotions since most people cannot voluntarily contract the outer portion of the orbicularis oculi muscle.

Pan-Am Smile

The Pan-Am smile is the name given to a "fake smile", in which only the zygomatic major muscle is voluntarily contracted to show politeness. It is named after the airline Pan American World Airways, whose flight attendants would always flash every jet-setter the same, faked smile.

Ok, a lot of research quoted, what are you trying to say?

1. Smile. Smile from within for yourself and smile to share your happiness with people.
2. Avoid fake smiles.  People across the world are good at spotting these.  We seem to have that knowledge ingrained.
3. Find reasons to smile.  Dont go out looking for the one mega thing that will make you smile for a long long time, find smaller victories if you will.
4. Find people to share the smile with.  Apparently sharing the smile is a lot more important to us that just smiling.
5. Appreciate people who smile.  Let them know they brightened your day!


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      maine 7 years ago

      this is so well researched. it seems obvious that smiling is good for you!