Our mood affects our facial expressions, but also vice versa

Often when we frown, it means that we're sad or grumpy. But how much does the frown also exacerbate the bad mood? To study this, University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology PhD candidate David Havas tested individuals who had received Botox treatments to stop brow-wrinkling. The subjects were asked before and after Botox treatments to read statements that were angry, sad, or happy. The Botox seemed to slow down the time it took the subjects to read and understand the angry and sad statements but not the happy ones. This supports the theory that facial expressions do affect the brain's ability to process some emotions, a concept Mark looked at in 2008 in a guest essay on Good. From the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

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"There is a long-standing idea in psychology called the facial feedback hypothesis," says Havas. "Essentially, it says, when you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you. It's an old song, but it's right. Actually, this study suggests the opposite: When you're not frowning, the world seems less angry and less sad."

The Havas study broke new ground by linking the expression of emotion to the ability to understand language, says Havas' adviser, UW-Madison professor emeritus of psychology Arthur Glenberg. "Normally, the brain would be sending signals to the periphery to frown, and the extent of the frown would be sent back to the brain. But here, that loop is disrupted, and the intensity of the emotion and of our ability to understand it when embodied in language is disrupted."

Practically, the study "may have profound implications for the cosmetic-surgery," says Glenberg. "Even though it's a small effect, in conversation, people respond to fast, subtle cues about each other's understanding, intention and empathy. If you are slightly slower reacting as I tell you about something made me really angry, that could signal to me that you did not pick up my message."

Such an effect could snowball, Havas says, but the outcome could also be positive: "Maybe if I am not picking up sad, angry cues in the environment, that will make me happier."

In theoretical terms, the finding supports a psychological hypothesis called "embodied cognition," says Glenberg, now a professor of psychology at Arizona State University. "The idea of embodied cognition is that all our cognitive processes, even those that have been thought of as very abstract, are actually rooted in basic bodily processes of perception, action and emotion."

"Can blocking a frown keep bad feelings at bay?" (Univ of Wisconsin-Madison)