Can a smile reduce stress?

study by scientists at the University of Kansas found that a smile , especially a genuine smile involving both the muscles of the mouth and eyes, can help slow your heart rate after stressful activities.

The study is available in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science (APS).

Well-known sayings like ‘smile and accept’ have suggested that smiling is not only an important non-verbal indicator of happiness, but it also promotes smiling as a panacea for stressful life events. The researchers wanted to examine whether these sayings had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real relevant health benefits.

Previous studies show that positive emotions can help in times of stress and that smiling can affect emotion; however, this research is the first of its kind to experimentally manipulate the types of smiles people make to examine the effects of smiling on stress. ”

The study: method

For the study, the researchers divided 169 college-age men and women into three groups. One group was trained to hold the chopsticks in their mouths in a way that caused the facial muscles to be in a neutral facial expression. The second group was taught to hold the chopsticks in their mouths in a way that mimicked a standard smile (involving only the muscles around the mouth). The third group was taught to hold the toothpicks in their mouths so that the facial and eye muscles mate to create a genuine or Duchenne smile (one that uses muscles in both the mouth and eyes).

Half of those who held the chopsticks in a way that gave them smiles were told that the facial expression was “something like a smile.” The rest of the subjects were asked to keep the chopsticks in the indicated position.

Then, while holding the chopsticks in their mouths in the indicated positions, participants were asked to complete tasks designed to approach stressful activities, such as dipping their hands in a bucket of ice water. Subjects were told that they would participate in multitasking activities. They did not know that the tasks were designed to simulate stressful situations.

Participants’ heart rates, along with their self-reported stress levels, were recorded during and after performing the designated tasks. Her blood pressure was also monitored during and after tasks.


The researchers found that participants who held the chopsticks in a smile position, particularly those who had a genuine or Duchenne smile, had lower heart rates after a recovery period after stressful activities than those who had neutral expressions.

Those who were expressly told they were supposed to smile had an even slightly lower heart rate after stressful activities than those who held chopsticks in a way that forced them to smile, but were not explicitly told to smile. .

Dr. Pressman, co-author of the study, said lower blood pressure was also seen overall, but not in all cases. Blood pressure measurements showed similar results as they were lower on average, but the difference was not statistically significant.


These findings show that a smile during stressful moments can help reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person is truly happy. The study results suggest that smiling can actually influence our physical condition.

This will not cure us if we have chronic stress or experience a major stressful event such as a natural catastrophe. But, it is almost impossible to be really angry or stressed with a big smile on your face… You can’t help but reduce that negative effect.

The next time you are in a jam or experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to keep a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you “smile and accept” psychologically, it could also help your heart health!

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