What Is The Facial Feedback Hypothesis And Does It Work?
Emotions are a basic part of the human experience, and expressing those emotions appropriately can be a part of improving one’s mental health. We can show our emotions in many ways, but one of the quickest and most common ways is through facial expressions. Facial expressions can do more than show others how we feel. Scientists have proposed the facial feedback hypothesis, which suggests that changing our facial expressions can also change our emotions.
What Is The Facial Feedback Hypothesis?
The facial feedback hypothesis states that our facial expressions affect our emotions. If the facial-feedback hypothesis is correct, then not only do we smile when we feel happy, but smiling can make us feel happy, too. According to this hypothesis, in these cases, it is the act of smiling that produces a happy feeling. The same might hold true for other emotions as well.
Background Of The Hypothesis
Scientists have been interested in the idea of a facial-feedback hypothesis since the 1800s. In the 1840s, William James presented the idea that awareness of your bodily experiences is the basis of emotion. Thus, if you know that certain facial expressions are the ones you associate with being sad, you may experience a feeling of sadness.
Darwin investigated the way animals used facial expressions and suggested the idea of facial feedback in the 1870s. Through the latter half of the 1900s, the topic of facial feedback became popular again. Since then, many different studies have been done to test this hypothesis.
Types Of Facial Expressions
What types of facial expressions can produce the emotions we feel? The scientific community is still debating how the facial feedback hypothesis might work with different expressions. One thing that seems certain, though, is that a smile is connected to the production of a happy emotion, while a frown is connected to a feeling of sadness.
Degrees Of Emotions
Along with the type of emotion we feel, we can also show the degree of that emotion through our facial expressions. For example, you may be slightly angry and express that emotion with a slight frown and furrowed eyebrows. If you're furious, though, your expressions will likely be much more distinctive.
Often, we may feel combinations of emotions. Emotions aren't always pure or easily defined. Some common complex emotions are joyful love, prideful anger, and ambivalence. Complex emotions can be expressed with subtle variations of the usual facial expressions.
Duchenne Vs. Non-Duchenne Smiles
A Duchenne smile is a genuine smile, while a non-Duchenne smile is a fake smile. Although these two types of smiles are differentiated by whether the smile expresses an honest emotion you're feeling, you can make either expression whether you're already feeling happy or not.
In the non-Duchenne smile, you simply raise the corners of your mouth. It's what you might do when someone is going to take a photograph of you. They say, “Say cheese,” and you comply with a non-Duchenne smile.
The Duchenne smile starts with that same facial contraction, but it also involves raising your cheeks and squeezing your eyes. Your involuntary muscles do the extra work. So, how can you produce a Duchenne smile if you can't actively control those muscles? If we know what a Duchenne smile looks like, most of us can produce the same expression.
In a 2019 study, scientists carried out two experiments around Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiling. One evaluated how ostracism influenced the expression of emotion in a social environment, while the second replicated the results of the first experiment but focused particularly on smiling and self-reported emotion. In the first experiment, the participants who had higher frequencies of Duchenne smiling even during exclusion from the conversation self-reported higher rates of happiness. In the second, the relationship between non-Duchenne smiling and self-reported happiness was negative. However, certain participants were able to control their own emotional experience even while being ostracized, which led to an unexpected up-regulation of positive emotions.
Individual And Cultural Differences
Although all humans have many of the same basic facial expressions, some expressions may be unique to a specific individual or culture. So, if you know the person or culture well, it may be easier to understand what someone is expressing through facial expressions.
How The Facial Muscles Express Emotions
We often express emotions in our bodies, especially by using our facial muscles in specific ways. Why do we do it? How do we know how to hold our faces to show our emotions? The answers are both biological and cultural.
Facial Expressions Are Hardwired In The Brain
Scientists believe that our brains are hardwired to use the facial muscles in specific ways to show our emotions. They suggest that this developed because people needed to live in groups to survive. This neurological phenomenon happens not only in people who can see and imitate the expressions of others but also in people who were born blind.
Facial Expressions Are Both Instinctual And Learned
Our expressions are instinctual, but we can also learn them from others. Did you ever notice a child's smile that looked identical to a parent's smile? That can happen not only between biological parents and children but also between parents and their adopted children. It's because they tend to imitate their parents’ expressions.
Along with imitating our relatives, we tend to watch others in our culture to learn how to express our emotions. We may meet others in person, watch them on a television show or YouTube video, or see their expression in a photo. When we do, we instinctually understand what they're expressing, and we can learn to express that emotion in the same way.
Which Comes First: The Expression Or The Feeling?
We tend to think it's our emotions that determine our facial expressions. However, the facial-feedback hypothesis states that expression can work in the opposite direction. That is, the way we contract our facial muscles may generate emotional feelings within us. The question of whether that happens is still the subject of research studies.
What Does the Facial-Feedback Hypothesis Mean To Me?
How our expressions influence our emotions may pose some interesting questions, but does it have any practical applications? If the facial-feedback hypothesis is true, as research up to the present seems to indicate, there may be several ways to take advantage of the phenomenon. Researchers have found that facial feedback appears to happen during the movement of facial muscles to create expressions, which attenuates ongoing feelings and emotions.
Enjoy Life More
Do you ever find yourself in a situation you'd rather avoid? Perhaps you have to be in class or at work when you'd rather be outside enjoying a beautiful day. Maybe you need to interact socially to advance your career or promote your favorite cause, but you'd rather spend the time alone.
If you apply the facial feedback hypothesis in these situations, you might find that you enjoy your time even if you're doing something you'd rather not do. As you smile, happy feelings may follow, allowing you to enjoy these moments wherever you are.
Avoid Negative Emotions More Often
If facial feedback can also cause negative emotions, you may be able to mitigate these feelings or feel them less frequently. If you don't want to feel unhappy, you may try to avoid frowning. If you don’t want to feel angry, you may decide to stop clenching your teeth and decide to modify your expression. If the theory is correct, unpleasant feelings may be far less troublesome.
Have More Understanding And Control Over Emotions
It can be healthy and mature to acknowledge your present feelings without wholly giving in to them. You may be able to control distressing emotions, which can improve your mental health. That doesn't mean you never show emotions spontaneously, but you have other options when you need them.
If your emotions sometimes make you feel overwhelmed, facial feedback may help. You can learn valuable techniques from a counselor during online therapy. Aside from teaching you new techniques for controlling your emotions, therapy may help you explore the issues behind those emotions and address any underlying problems.
Online Therapy Can Support You
If you’re thinking about your next steps, online therapy may help you explore your concerns under the guidance of an experienced, licensed counselor. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that online therapy was equally as effective as traditional in-person counseling; 80% of the trials conducted on computer-delivered therapy sessions saw more than half of the participants showing high rates of satisfaction.
When you choose online counseling, you can work with a licensed counselor that you choose among thousands of counselors. You can select a therapist who addresses the same types of emotional challenges you're facing, whether you're experiencing anger, sadness, anxiety, or another emotion.
You can also choose a counselor for the type of therapy they offer, whether cognitive behavioral therapy, existential therapy, or dialectical behavior therapy. Their specialties, experience, and educational backgrounds are available for you to read and assess before you set up your first appointment.
“Sharon helps you discuss your struggles then somehow knows the exact words to inspire action. She has helped immensely with my negative self-talk and has brought up my self esteem a lot.”
“Her guidance throughout this process of change has helped tremendously. When I get off the phone I feel a sense of release of what was clouding my mind. I have tendencies to have negative thoughts and with the techniques she has brought to my attention I’ve been able to redirect my thoughts to a reality based point of view. It’s been two weeks and I feel my path with counseling has made an impact already.”
What is the facial feedback hypothesis?
The facial feedback hypothesis is the theory that facial expressions can activate and regulate emotions by influencing the processing of emotional stimuli. By smiling when you’re happy, this hypothesis suggests that you will feel happier. Or, by furrowing your brow when you’re angry, you may feel angrier. This concept was first introduced by Charles Darwin in 1872, but it did not become popular until the 1980s, when the facial feedback hypothesis was defined in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It has since received both criticism and praise as more research is conducted to test this hypothesis.
What does facial feedback suggest?
Most people believe that we smile when we’re happy, or frown when we’re sad. However, according to the facial feedback hypothesis, the inverse could be true. This would suggest that smiling could cause happiness, and angry facial expressions could cause anger.
What is the facial feedback hypothesis proposed by James-Lange?
William James and Carl Lange developed the James-Lange Theory of Emotion. According to this theory, physiological changes trigger emotions. For example, if you encountered a rabid dog, your heart rate would rise and you may start perspiring and running away from the dog. James and Lange propose that these physiological changes trigger the emotion and expression of fear, rather than fear triggering the physiological response. Simply put, James and Lange would say you feel afraid because your heart rate has risen, rather than your heart rate rising because you feel afraid.
The James-Lange Theory has received significant criticism. For example, this theory does not explain why people with limited physiological responses or reduced sensations still experience emotions.
What is the facial feedback hypothesis of Charles Darwin?
The first of several facial feedback hypotheses was introduced by Charles Dawin in 1872, when he proposed that emotional facial expressions are ubiquitous and innate (not socially learned) in his book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. In this book, Darwin observed that emotions intensified when facial muscle regions were engaged, and softened when facial responses were repressed.
William James and Carl Lange later built on this theory, developing the James-Lange Theory that facial expressions and other physiologic changes generate emotional states.
What is the facial feedback hypothesis replication crisis?
When scientists ask research participants to adopt a voluntary facial action (i.e., by instructing participants to smile or frown), they can unintentionally skew study results. To address this concern, a 1988 study used pens to manipulate facial expression by having participants hold a pen between their teeth or lips, thus inducing smiling or frowning without participant awareness. The researchers then had participants look at a series of cartoons, and found that “smiling” participants reported more positive emotions and found the cartoons more amusing. However, other studies have failed to replicate these results.
In 17 separate direct replications of the 1988 study, results indicated no significant difference between the “smile” and “frown” groups.
What are the benefits of facial feedback?
If true, the facial feedback phenomenon suggests that you may feel happier simply by smiling. Therefore, if you’re feeling down, you could boost your mood by reminding yourself to smile. Many people support the notion that “faking it till you make it,” or “turning your frown upside down,” can make you happier.
However, there is mixed support for the facial feedback hypothesis. Additionally, forcing yourself to disingenuously smile may have a negative impact on your wellbeing. One study found that service workers who felt obligated to smile while interacting with customers experienced heightened rates of excessive alcohol consumption.
Finally, there have been debates about what nonverbal behaviors, like smiling, actually communicate. While some social psychologists believe that smiling is an expression of happiness, others believe it’s used as a form of social influence to indicate willingness to cooperate with others.
How has facial feedback effect been supported?
There has been mixed evidence regarding the facial feedback effect. For example, researchers have used the voluntary facial action technique to test the facial feedback hypothesis, instructing participants to induce frowns or smiles in response to positive and negative stimuli, and then rate the pleasantness. They found that facial expressions can reduce the intensity of emotional states, but this effect is generally only present during the actual facial action.
A large 2019 meta-review examined 50 years of research, including 286 studies, found that altering facial expressions has a very small or nonexistent effect on mood. On average, if 100 people smiled, seven may feel happier than they would without smiling.
What best explains the facial feedback effect?
Facial feedback literature was widely popular in the 1980s and 1990s, with particular focus on the vascular theory of facial efference. This theory proposes that facial feedback effects occur when the facial muscles are activated, which may regulate cerebral blood flow and therefore influence emotions.
How does Botox relate to the facial feedback hypothesis?
Botulinum toxin (Botox) is often injected into the upper region of the face, where it can reduce dynamic creases utilized in some expressive behaviors, such as anger and shock. Some doctors believe that Botox injections could limit the ability to frown, and thus may reduce negative facial feedback effects, leading to more positive emotional states overall.
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