Smiling May Broaden Your Mind

The current study shows that expressing positive emotions on your face frequently helps broaden your mind (cognitive broadening). It uses the facial electromyography (EMG) technique to differentiate between real (Duchenne) and fake (non-Duchenne) smiles. A real smile occurs more often when positive emotions are felt, as opposed to the neutral display associated with negative emotions. Experiment One tested the hypothesis that a real smile correlates with a better attention span when performing visual tasks. Experiment Two tested the hypothesis that a real smile correlates with flexibility of the attention span. The results suggests a new method for measuring emotional experience.

A state of anxiety adversely affects our ability to focus. A positive frame of mind, by contrast, makes it easy to be attentive, even to more than one task at a time, without being distracted. The effect of negative emotions on attention span and perception has been studied extensively. Negative emotional states result in a person being more perceptive toward local features, while positive stimuli bring about an overall vision. The emotional state is often reflected upon the face. Real smiles, also called Duchenne smiles, indicate a true sense of happiness and involve the contraction of two muscles in the face. Facial EMG is a technique that records subtle activity of the face, reflecting emotional states. This study examines how induced emotions, as detected by facial expressions, affect cognitive functions.

* In Experiment One,100 undergraduates participated. Using short film clips, emotional states, such as a feeling of joy, contentment, anger, sadness and a neutral state were created. After each clip, the participants were asked to remember incidents in their lives that generated similar feelings. Then each participant reported the degree of the experience.
* The activities of facial muscles were recorded using EMG’s throughout the process. Both genuine and fake smiles were recorded.
* In the beginning stage of Experiment Two, the emotional states of 62 participants were recorded. They were shown 25 statements that induced certain moods, each accompanied with corresponding music. These participants reported the degree of emotion they felt.
* A facial EMG was recorded and a visual task was given to the participants in Experiment Two.

* In Experiment One, participants experiencing different emotional stimulation had similar levels of optimism, openness to experience, and resilience.
* Positive stimuli resulted in more real smiles and less frowns. More real smiles correlated with more interest in new experiences.
* In Experiment Two, changes in moods caused by statements were insignificant. Real smiles were correlated to positive emotions.

Shortcomings/next steps
The finding that positive emotions predict improved scores on cognition tests is a correlation, not a demonstration of cause-and-effect.
The authors may have underestimated the true number of real smiles by using a very specific measure of facial muscle movement.

Positive emotions, as reported by facial expressions, predict broadening of cognition. The results indicate that it is not frequent smiling, but genuine smiling, that plays a role in increasing cognitive performance. To broaden cognition, it seems that it is important to have positive experiences that are expressed as genuine smiles. This condition is not limited to people with positive mindsets only. The study also shows that it is not possible to reliably induce genuine emotions. Reliable determination of a smile can be obtained using EMG  as well as by self-reporting. The tasks given in this study tested attention as well as flexibility of the attention span, and both were superior in people who smiled more.

For More Information:
Smile to See the Forest: Facially Expressed Positive Emotions Broaden Cognition
Publication Journal: Cognition and Emotion, February 2010
By Kareem J. Johnson; et al., Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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