For most people, smiling is a natural response – from a glance from a passerby in the street to a friend in the hallway. In fact, smiling is most often a person’s reaction from receiving a smile themselves, prompting researchers, as well as those curious enough, to ask the following question: “Is smiling contagious?”
While this may seem an unusual question, scientists have uncovered compelling information that in fact supports the claim that smiling causes other people to smile. People tend to mimic the smiles (or frowns) of others to trigger that same emotional state within themselves, allowing them to formulate an appropriate social response, sometimes unconsciously.
However, a person’s ability to recognize emotions through facial expressions can be inhibited when they are unable to mimic expressions themselves, due to facial paralysis or other disorders, like autism. According to Adrienne Wood, a PH.D. student in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “when you see a facial expression and you want to know what it means, you recreate that expression in your brain.”
In other words, upon seeing a particular facial expression, people tend to mimic that same expression in order to understand and comprehend another person’s feelings, emotions, or thoughts. In doing this, a person activates their “cingulate cortex,” the part of the brain that releases neuropeptides, neurotransmitters, dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin—often referred to as the “feel good” chemicals—that serve as anti-depressants and help to control a person’s smile in addition to the process of mirroring the smile of other people. So when a person catches another person smiling, he or she feels the need or the desire to imitate that same facial expression and the positive feelings associated with it.
Although there is still much left to learn about facial expressions and how we both express and in turn, perceive them, smiling is one of the reasons why a person is viewed as more attractive, reliable, relaxed, and sincere. This is all the more reason to turn that frown upside down and share a smile.
By Neha Wadhwana’18, Guest Writer