Saturday, March 27, 2010

Smile As Though Your Life Depends On It - Because It Does

Plate III from Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. From Chapter VIII: Joy—High spirits—Love—Tender feelings—Devotion

Ever heard of the Duchenne smile? Me either. 

That is, until I read about this study, in which the conclusion was this:

"To the extent that smile intensity reflects an underlying emotional disposition, the results of this study are congruent with those of other studies demonstrating that emotions have a positive relationship with mental health, physical health and longevity," the study says.

In other words, people who smile authentically (the Duchenne smile) are happier, healthier, and live longer.

The study looked at a group of baseball players who began playing before 1950, which was a great research population choice, since baseball players are among the most statistically reviewed group of guys ever. The researchers had a wealth of information to examine about these gentlemen over many years.

Researchers began by looking the players' pictures in the 1952 Baseball Register and categorized the players by their smiles: no smile; partial smile in which only the muscles of the lips and mouth were lifted; and full smile - or Duchenne smile - in which the mouth and muscles near the eyes were affected. A Duchenne smile encompasses the entire face and is responsible for those great little crow's feet wrinkles.

You can read more about the French neurologist for whom this smile is named here, complete with some seriously strange pictures.

After factoring in other variables that may affect longevity, the study reported that:

Of the players who had died as of June 1 last year, those in the no-smile category lived for an average of 72.9 years, those with partial smiles - just the mouth involved - died at age 75, while the full-smile players lived to the ripe old age of 79.9 on average, the study published in Psychological Science showed.


The baseball study is only one of many studies linking quality of life to quality of smile. This article in Psychology Today cites this from UC Berkeley:

Researchers Dacher Keltner and LeeAnne Harker from the University of California, Berkeley analyzed the smiles in 141 photos from the 1960 Mills College yearbook. They divided the photos by Duchenne smiles, Say Cheese smiles, and the non-smilers.The researchers followed up with these women at age 27, 43, and 52 and asked them questions about their life satisfaction and status of their marriage. They found that the Duchenne smile predicted positive outcomes in marriage and well-being up to 30 years later.

Wowsers. I wonder if one could fake that kind of smile and get the same results?

Apparently, no, you can't. A fake smile is generated in the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for motor skills, among a multitude of other functions:

The Duchenne smile arises from the emotion center, or limbic system found deep in the brain:

I guess today's message would be this: Smile, darn it. And once more - this time with feeling.

No comments: