The study by the University of South Australia examines participants holding a pen between their teeth, forcing their face to use the same muscles as a smile. The experiment reveals that this movement alters both facial and body expressions, which generates more uplifting emotions.
"When your muscles say you're happy, you're more likely to see the world around you in a positive way," Dr. Marmolejo-Ramos says in a university release.
How smiles trick the brain
Holding a pen between the teeth can induce a covert smile, triggering positive emotional signals.
(©Daniela A´ lvarez, 2020)
Marmolejo-Ramos says this discovery provides important information about mental health and what stimulates the brain. This is critical during the coronavirus pandemic, which study authors add is causing disturbing spikes in anxiety and depression cases globally.
"In our research we found that when you forcefully practice smiling, it stimulates the amygdala – the emotional center of the brain – which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state," the artificial cognition expert explains.
"For mental health, this has interesting implications. If we can trick the brain into perceiving stimuli as 'happy,' then we can potentially use this mechanism to help boost mental health."
Perception may be as important as reality