A smile won’t make you happier if you are being watched

A smile won’t make you happier if you are being watched

In the last post I mentioned the feedback your brain receives when you smile. Effectively, it thinks, “Hmm. I’m smiling; I must be happy”, and you actually become happier. This was shown in a famous study by Fritz Strack in 1988.

However, attempts to replicate this experiment were not always successful. Some worked and some didn’t, resulting in an overall lack of proof of the effect.

Recently Noah et al conducted more research into why some of those attempted replications were successful and not the others. One theory had been that the ones that were not successful had the participants being filmed, and the others did not. So they conducted the experiment again, splitting the conditions into those being overtly videoed and those not being overtly videoed.

Sure enough, when people were not being videoed they were happier when being made to smile (by holding their pen between their teeth, forcing the mouth into a sort of grimace!). When they knew they were being videoed, though, there was no such effect. It appears that knowing you are being watched makes you think about how you look. You “adopt an external perspective” of yourself and are more likely to ignore internal stimuli and feedback.

Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

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