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29 Sep 2017

Scientists: smiling makes you better

The expression of emotions on your face are one of the most socially significant human behaviours, and so there’s been feverish scientific interest in this field.

For more than a century now - since Charles Darwin had a look at smiling, in fact - scientists have wanted to understand the role of emotional expressions as social signals of internal states.

It turns out that the biochemical processes set in motion when you smile actually make you feel better. That’s great news for anyone who feels comfortable smiling, but a shame for the many people who hesitate to smile because they feel embarrassed about their teeth.

For so many people sadly this can become automatic, until it begins to affect their personality and social life. We would urge anyone who is aware of suppressing their smile to come in for a cosmetic dentistry  consultation. We’re always happy to discuss your concerns and give you guidance.

The idea that facial expressions aren’t just representations of internal states, but can themselves affect emotional experiences, was originally one of Darwin’s, and it’s called the Facial Feedback Response Theory.

Over the years it’s been repeatedly proved that facial expressions can increase the intensity of emotional experiences. It doesn’t seem to work the other way round however; inhibiting facial expressions doesn’t lower the intensity of emotional experiences.

Another wrinkle has been ironed out of the theory too: we now know that facial feedback merely influences rather than completely determines emotional experience, as some people thought.

Several studies into facial feedback have featured Botox injections, and the research tells us that having anti-wrinkle injections doesn’t affect the intensity of your emotional experiences (in case you were worried).

Interestingly, in one of these studies, 10 patients with depression were given Botox injections and two months later nine of them were no longer clinically depressed, although it wasn’t clear why.

So, what’s the science behind feeling better when we smile? Intentionally exercising your zygomaticus major muscle and orbicularis oculi muscle, which you can do by holding a pencil with your teeth, fires a signal to the brain, stimulating your reward system to release endorphins, your happy hormones.

By doing this you’ve just jump-started the positive feedback loop of happiness. When your brain feels happy, you smile; when you smile, your brain feels happier.

In a study using an electromagnetic brain scan machine and heart-rate monitor, British researchers found that one smile can provide the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars.

But unlike lots of chocolate, lots of smiling can actually make you healthier. It’s been associated with reduced stress hormone levels, increased health and mood enhancing hormone levels, and lowered blood pressure.

If that’s not enough, smiling also makes you look attractive to others. So try it, and if you have been avoiding it, talk to us. We can help.

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