Research Highlights - August 2020

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How can you use the findings from the latest research studies to improve your performance and the performance of your organization?  We’ll provide the highlights and key ideas you won’t get anywhere else.

Groundbreaking research from the University of South Australia confirms that just by moving your facial muscles, the simple act of smiling can trick your mind into being more positive.  Today, with the world in crisis, accompanied by an alarming rise of anxiety and depression, these findings could not be more timely.

The study, published recently in Experimental Psychology, evaluated the impact of a covert smile on perceptions of the face and body expressions.  In both scenarios, a smile was induced by participants holding a pen between their teeth, forcing their facial muscles to replicate the movements of a smile.

The research found that facial muscular activity not only alters the recognition of facial expressions but also body expressions, with both generating more positive emotions.  When your muscles say you’re happy, you’re more likely to see the world around you in a positive way.  The research 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.

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.

The study replicated findings from the ‘covert’ smile experiment by evaluating how people interpret a range of facial expressions (spanning frowns to smiles) using the pen-in-teeth mechanism; it then extended this using point-light motion images (spanning sad walking videos to happy walking videos) as the visual stimuli.

There is a strong link between action and perception.  In a nutshell, perceptual and motor systems are intertwined when we emotionally process stimuli.

In this case, a ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ approach could have more impact than generally expected.


Experimental Psychology, May 11, 2020, Vol. 67, Iss. 1,Moves Seem Happier...

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