The Three Best Times to Fake a Smile

Fake Smile
Photo: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley, Shutterstock

Did you know that you are capable of changing your emotional state simply by altering your facial expression?

Decades of research have proven that our moods can be instantly elevated and our stress levels reduced when we plaster a great big smile on our faces, even if for a short period of time.

A smile is universal. People in every culture around the world smile in the same way, and even people who are born blind smile involuntarily when they feel happy.

Smiles that express happiness are far from superficial. When a person genuinely smiles, it  causes the cheeks to raise and the skin around the eyes to crease. This is also known as a Duchenne smile, as French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne discovered the distinction between the muscles used in fake and real smiles in the 19th century.

On the other hand, a fake smile uses different muscles than a real smile. Since a real smile is involuntary and a fake one is deliberate, different portions of the brain control the muscles used for each.

One of the best known ways to spot a fake smile is to look at the end of the eyebrows, which dip slightly when a smile is real.

But since smiling does a body all kinds of good, it’s okay to fake it sometimes. Here are the three best times to keep calm and fake a smile.

When You’ve Been Naughty
In a 1995 study, researchers at Boston College found that people who were potentially guilty of an academic violation were let off more leniently by their punishers if they flashed a smile. And it didn’t matter if their smile was fake or genuine because targets who smile are perceived as more trustworthy.

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When You’re Stressed
Smiling is proven to lower your heart rate and mitigate stress. According to a recent University of Kansas study that will be published in Psychological Science, smiling while stressed helps lower your body’s stress response, despite how happy you actually feel.

Photo: Kaspars Grinvalds, Shutterstock

When You’re Bummed
New research suggests that Botox could help ease depression simply by making it difficult to frown. If there was ever a good reason to get Botox, easing depression and increasing happiness seems to fit the bill. By paralyzing the facial muscles used for frowning, people are prevented from physically displaying expressions of negative emotion. The theory is that if they cannot physically frown then the brain feels there may be less to frown about, scientists claim.

Photo: pathdoc, Shutterstock

This doesn’t mean you should go out and get Botox. Having Botox in the lower part of your face can prevent a smile and have the opposite effect.

What it does suggest is that to lower depression, anxiety and irritability, you should simply smile.

UCLA scientist Marco Iacoboni notes that our brains are wired for sociability. In particular, if one person observes another person smile, mirror neurons in that person’s brain will light up as if he were smiling himself. When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.

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