Study Says Some Smiles Can Trigger Stress

New Study Shows Smiles Can Trigger Stress

Smiles are usually associated with happiness and warmth. Aside that it can be contagious, smile can also make everyone feel better. However, a recent study showed not all smiles can bring positive impact to some people. Sometimes it can be downright mean and some smiles can trigger stress in anyone.

This new finding was based on a study spearheaded by brilliant researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

According to the study, there are different kind of smiles. A smile meant to convey dominance are associated with a physical reaction – a spike in stress hormones – in their targets. On the other hand, smiles intended as a reward, to reinforce behavior, appear to physically buffer recipients against stress.

Facial expressions really do regulate the world. We have that intuition, but there hasn’t been a lot of science behind it,” says Martin.

Martin added, “Our results show that subtle differences in the way you make facial expressions while someone is talking to you can fundamentally change their experience, their body, and the way they feel like you’re evaluating them.”

some smiles can trigger stress. Image by Rizal Deathrasher from Pixabay
Not all smiles are expressions of warmth and joy. Image by Rizal Deathrasher from Pixabay

The Study

Smith collaborated with Paula Niedenthal, UW-Madison psychology professor – and co-author on the study.

In the study where it involved 90 male college students, the researchers used three major types of smiles in the study: dominance (meant to convey status), affiliation (which communicates a bond and shows you’re not a threat), and reward (the sort of beaming, toothy smile you’d give someone to let them know they’re making you happy).

The smile participants were given a series of short, impromptu speaking assignments judged over a webcam by a fellow student who was actually in on the study. Throughout their speeches, the participants saw brief video clips they believed were their judge’s reactions.

The researchers also monitored the speakers’ heart rates and periodically taking saliva samples to measure cortisol, a hormone associated with stress.

Here are the results:

The results showed that cortisol level rose among participants when they received the dominance smiles. In contrast, reward smiles yielded more positive impact.

Niedenthal said, “If they received dominance smiles, which they would interpret as negative and critical, they felt more stress, and their cortisol went up and stayed up longer after their speech. If they received reward smiles, they reacted to that as approval, and it kept them from feeling as much stress and producing as much cortisol.”

The effect of affiliative smiles was closer to that of reward smiles – interesting, but hard to interpret, Niedenthal says, because the affiliative message in the judging context was probably hard for the speakers to understand. It is unlikely that most people know that smiles can trigger stress.

Mom smiles at Thursday Night Market.
Mom smiles at Thursday Night Market.
Mina Fabulous
Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.