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The Science of Smiles, Real and Fake

A recent study that reviewed around 50 years of data, including the results of nearly 300 experiments testing the facial feedback theory, has found that if smiling boosts happiness, it’s only by a tiny bit. After crunching all the numbers, the researchers say their results suggest that if 100 people smiled — all else equal among them — only about seven might expect to feel happier than if they hadn’t smiled. The study also looked at the effects of a number of other facial expressions, including scowling and frowning, and tried to more generally understand the extent to which positive facial expressions create positive emotions and negative facial expressions create negative emotions. In each case, “the effects were extremely tiny,” says Nick Coles, a social psychology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who led the study.

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