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April 1998 -- and Biological, Emotion

Can Smiling Make You Happy?

Overview | Article Summary | For Instructors | For Students

Kleinke, C.L., Peterson, T.R., & Rutledge, T.R. (1998). Effects of self-generated facial expressions on mood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 272-279.


Theories of Emotion

An emotion, such as happiness or sadness, is a subjective experience that is associated with some phsyiological change in arousal and some characteristic behavior. For example, a feeling of happiness is generally accompanied by a decrease in heart rate, indicating a decrease in arousal, and a smile, an overt behavior. Fear is generally associated with, among other physiological effects, an increase in heart rate and clenched teeth.

Do we smile because we are happy or do are we happy because we smile? Theories of emotion differ in terms of whether the emotion leads to physiological and behavioral changes or the other way around. According to one theory, the facial feedback theory which has its roots in the writings and theories of Charles Darwin and William James, emotion can be regulated by behavior, particularly by facial expression.

Try smiling. Do you feel happy? Try frowning. Do you feel grumpy? Research from the 1970s and 1980s suggests you do - at least physiologically. In one study, participants who mimicked a fearful expression showed an increase in heart rate and skin temperature. Kleinke, Peterson, and Rutledge (1998) added to this theory by examining how mimicking facial expressions might influence mood.

Overview | Article Summary | For Instructors | For Students

Article Summary

A number of research studies have shown that making a facial expression, such as a smile, can produce effects on the body that are similar to those that result from the actual emotion, such as happiness.

Kleinke, Peterson, and Rutledge (1998) two scientific questions that extend the work on facial feedback theories of emotion:

  • Do people who are more self-conscious show stronger mood effects from making facial expressions than people who are less self-conscious?
  • Does facial expression have a stronger effect on mood when the person can see his/or her expression?

To study these questions, Kleinke et al. had students view photographs or slides of people with either positive facial expressions (smiling) or negative facial expressions (frowning). Participants in the control group just viewed the photos or slides, participants in the expression group were instructed to mimic the facial expression, and participants in the expression-mirror group matched the expression with the aid of looking in a mirror.

Mood was measured using a mood scale in which participants indicated their degree of agreement with statements reflecting their mood "right now." The mood scale was administered before and after viewing the photographs/slides and change in mood was used as the dependent variable. In the first experiment, the participants also completed a self-consciousness scale in which they indicated their agreement with statements such as "I'm always trying to figure myself out."

As found in other studies, facial expressions did affect the participants' mood: Mood did not change in the control group who simply viewed the expressions. Participants who matched the positive expressions experienced a positive change in mood (they were in a more positive mood after making positive facial expressions) and participants who matched the negative expressions experienced a negative change in mood.

Participants who were more self-conscious showed greater changes in mood following making the positive or negative expressions. Kleinke et al. conclude that this finding indicates that self-conscious people are more in-tune with themselves and therefore more responsive to mood-inducting experiences.

Participants who watched their expressions in a mirror also showed a greater change in mood. It seems that the visual feedback adds to the proprioceptive self-awareness of mood-related facial expression.

Overall, this study adds to the facial feedback theory of emotion by demonstrating that a personality characteristic of self-consciousness and visual feedback both add to the effect of facial expression on emotion.

Overview | Article Summary | For Instructors | For Students

For Instructors

Links to the Lecture

Paul Ekman's facial feedback theory of emotion is highlighted in this video:

    Face Value (Filmakers, 38 min).

The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark, & Telegren, 1988) was used to measure mood in one of the experiments in this article. The PANAS consists of positive adjectives (such as interested, alert, excited) and negative adjectives (such as disinterested, upset, guilty) rated on a five point scale to indicate the extent to which the rater feels that way. This scale is simple to administer and score in class and yields scores on positive and negative affect.

    Watson, D., Clark, L., & Telegren, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1063-1070.

Overview | Article Summary | For Instructors | For Students

For Students

About the Authors

Chris Kleinke is a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. He completed this research with his undergraduate students, Thomas Peterson, who is now in graduate school at the University of New Mexico, and Thomas Rutledge, who is now a graduate student at the University of British Columbia.

About the Journal

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology publishes a wide range of empirical, theoretical, and review articles on personality and on social psychology. Check out the recent issue.

Links to Life

Here is an interesting synopsis of work on emotion and mood from a somewhat old (1996) on-line bibliography on emotion.

What if you couldn't smile? People with Moebius Syndrome can't smile.

Just for fun, visit the Page of Smiles, with smiley pictures and lots of links to make you smile. And hereÕs a dictionary of emoticons (smiley faces and other expression of emotion made with punctuation) so you can share your mood electronically.

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Last updated March 28, 1998
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