When you flash your pearly whites at someone, it’s almost impossible for that person not to smile back. But it turns out that facial expressions don’t just influence those around us, they also influence our own neural activity.
Thanks to mirror neurons, we’ve understood for a while now that we mimic the smiles or frowns of others because empathy allows us to understand what they are feeling and respond similarly.
When we see someone with a frown or scowl, we know immediately that something has made them unhappy or angry. When we see someone smiling or laughing, we assume it is the result of happiness or joy. But now we also know that the interaction between expression and mood works both ways.
Psychologists have actually disagreed about this idea for over 100 years. But a recent meta-analysis of combined data from 138 studies testing more than 11,000 participants from all around the world determined that facial expressions aren’t just the result of different feelings, but they can also influence our feelings. For example, smiling can make you feel happier, scowling can make you feel angrier, and frowning can make you feel sadder.
But wait, there’s more! New research shows that facial expressions not only influence our emotional state but also influence cognitive performance as well as psychophysiological responses. But not just any facial expressions. Specifically, the Game Face which scientists describe as a “serious, focused, or determined facial expression.”
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you smile your way to happiness when you’re in an intensely negative emotional state. But you can intentionally communicate a desired state to the brain by the expression you wear on your face. These are exciting findings because they shed greater light on how the mind and body interact to shape our conscious experiences.
So, go ahead... get your game face on! What do you have to lose?