Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fake Smiles Can Apparently Make You Depressed

BBC's "Spot the Fake Smile" test. From Greg Hughes.
Do you often try to smile, even when you're not happy? According to this story from The New York Times, you may actually be worsening your mood. This information comes from a study in the Academy of Management Journal, wherein researchers examined a group of bus drivers for two weeks. Why bus drivers? Because they often smile whenever a passenger gets on their bus, which theoretically gave researchers a large data set.

The study found a difference between "surface acting," or fake smiling, and "deep acting," which is a technique of using positive thoughts or memories to bring out real smiles (similar to method acting, I guess). The researchers had the bus drivers alternate between surface acting and deep acting on different days. On days when the drivers surface acted, they tended to become depressed and withdrawn from work. On days when they deep acted, their moods became more positive and their productivity increased.

These differences in technique affected women more than they did men. Dr. Brent Scott, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study, suspects that cultural norms are to blame. He says that women are socialized to be more emotionally expressive, so hiding their emotions may strain them more.

So the lesson here might be to avoid smiling when you're not feeling it. Instead, try to recall enough positive feelings that your smile comes naturally.

By the way, want to know which of your friends are genuinely happy and which ones are secretly wallowing in an existential morass of boredom and contempt, hidden only by a plastered-on contraction of facial muscles and teeth that they think will dull the pain, but in fact only pulls them deeper down the gaping hole of self-pity that they call life? Then head over to BBC's Spot the Fake Smile test! It only takes a minute or two, and you may not be as good as you think. I scored 16 out of 20! See if you can beat that!


  1. Yay, I'm so glad you included teh link to the test - I was anticipating that :) But before I check it out (I'll coem back to share my score), I just want to say that I totally believe in this idea. When you fake a smile you usually feel worse because you can't full yourself and havign to force a smile can even make you think something like "Damn, the hell do I have to smile when I don't feel like it" and this can make you feel angry and in turn, even more bitter... At least I feel like it happened to me before. Funny that it seems I naturally switched to a "better" technique - I do try to think of something positive so that my smile comes of more genuine at times when I feel like I have to smile but not maybe in the mood for it. I do it with pictures too, if I want my smile to look more authentic lol

  2. Wow, this is so weird, Derek!!! I got 16 out of 20 too!! Are we on the same page with this whole happiness/gratitude thing or what? :D

  3. Well, great minds think alike!