THE PHENOMENON OF CONTAGIOUS SMILING

Topics: Facial expressions, Smile, Facial Action Coding System Pages: 6 (2209 words) Published: October 12, 2013
What is a smile and is smiling contagious? A smile is a facial expression formed by flexing those muscles most notably near both ends of the mouth (Wikipedia). Essentially, “a smile is a curve that sets everything straight,” (Dyer 2011). People of all ages smile for numerous reasons. The most common reason for smiling is to display the emotion of happiness. However, sometimes people smile just to be friendly or polite and sometimes they may smile as a sign that they think they recognize or know you. Regardless of race, age, gender or the specific reason, at one time or another everybody smiles. The question of the day is: Is smiling contagious? Surprisingly, the answer is YES! “You only need to flash a smile at someone to raise a smile in them” (Dyer 2011). According to Dyer, smiling is actually good for us. Smiling makes us feel better by reducing blood pressure. Smiling also minimalizes stress and produces and releases specific hormones into our brain, such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins which also makes us feel good (Dyer 2011). Observation and research combined have convinced scientists and spiritual leaders to agree that a simple smile can “transform the world around you.” (Hatfield, Cacioppo, Rapson, Clark 1992) A Swedish study showed that when subjected to pictures of various emotionally filled facial expressions, a “conscious” effort was necessary by the participant to not imitate the facial expression in picture shown (Sonnby–Borgström, 2002). This study proved to be true with numerous different facial expressions showing emotion. The Swedish study included the emotions of fear, sadness, excitement and happiness. Surprisingly all of the emotions seemed to be contagious. When passed in a natural setting, people are less likely to smile if they do not encounter someone smiling at them. The display of facial expressions is controlled by the cingulate cortex, which is an unconscious automatic response area located within the human brain (O’Doherty Et al., 2003). The phenomenon of contagious smiling can also be classified as directly relating to the operation of our mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are specialized neurons that fire not only when a person enacts a particular behavior but also when they observe another individual carrying out the same behavior (Wikipedia). I conducted a procedure through a disguised observation method of subjects at the local race track, the nail salon, multiple convenience stores and the local grocery store. Through this observation process I was able to record how many people would smile if they were encountered by someone displaying a straight face by not bearing a smile. To collect the data, I recorded the number of people who were smiling when I passed them with a without bearing a smile in the four specified natural settings chosen for my observation. The behavior examples were taken at various different times of the day over a three week period. During the experimental period, I observed and recorded a total of two hundred forty subjects. There were one hundred fifty recorded at the race track, fifteen at the nail salon, twenty-five at the grocery store and fifty during numerous visits to convenience stores at various times of the day. As can be seen in figure one, my recorded results from the race track included fifty-eight out of one hundred fifty smiling subjects when I encountered them not displaying a smile on my own face. While visiting the nail salon my recorded results included six out of fifteen people were smiling without first observing a smile from me, which can be seen in figure two. Figure three illustrates the results during my bi-weekly visit to the grocery store. A mere three out of twenty-five recorded subjects were smiling when I walked past them. In the comparison of recorded subjects, the smallest amount of smiling was found at convenience stores. As can be seen in figure four, there were only ten out of fifty subjects that initially smiled at me while...
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