You Should Smile More [UPDATED]

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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30 Responses

  1. Steve says:

    My guess would be that this is not interesting enough to post if the result is obvious, therefore the result is that the non-smiling lipholders will rate the cartoons funnier. Perhaps because they have to fight laughter to keep the pen in place, and thereby notice their reactions more.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Steve says:

      My guess is similar — same result, but I speculate it may be because it’s easier to hold the pen with the lips than the teeth, so that frees up brain power to appreciate the humor in the comics.Report

  2. Damon says:

    I’m so tempted to make a “inappropriate” comment on the non smiling picture. But I am an ass.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    I reached a different preliminary conclusion than Steve. I’m guessing that forcing a smile creates a feedback loop and so people gave as many as two extra points to cartoons when they were fake smiling than when they were deliberately holding a vaguely serious face.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

      Ah, the problem of research in psychology. People screw with your tests by meta-gaming it, happily hiding the very information you’re after and thinking they’re being helpful.

      “No, we’d like your response. Not your response after you’ve thought about your response, projected what you think I think of your response, then altered your response to give me a response that isn’t your response, but is actually a fake response designed to make me think better of you or something”.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

        This was a lot easier before we had ethics.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Jaybird says:

          Sadly, true. 🙂

          Also the internet. Because trying to replicate a study once the results are well known can be…tricky. Because your little test subjects have probably heard of it, and are now modelling your test and trying to spit back the answers they want to give, rather than their actual answers.

          What’s it called? Theory of mind? Sense of self? We’ve got the ability to think about our thoughts, and to model other people’s thoughts, and play the Princess Bride Drinking Game, and that really screws with understanding what’s going on.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

          Dude, you fucking assume we have ethics now.
          Why the hell do you keep on assuming stupid shit?
          MOST psychology research now is evil shit done by corporations to make money off you and me.

          [Redacted by Vik]Report

  4. Road Scholar says:

    I’m going with Jaybird on this one. I’ve read about similar studies, though not this one in particular. I don’t recall the technical name of the effect, something something somatic yadda yadda blahblah probably.Report

  5. Doctor Jay says:

    I have not read this study. I have seen other things along this line. Yes, the forced smile makes you rate the cartoons higher. Because feelings are embodied. Mind-body duality is less of a thing than we think it is.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      A forced smile is not a true smile, and we know a hell of a lot about the difference.
      Mind-body duality is indeed a thing, and we have fifteen billion other studies to prove that.
      But a forced smile is not a true smile, and that’s probably the issue here.Report

  6. dragonfrog says:

    I tried this on the one-person sample size of myself – holding a pen in my teeth, then in my lips, I thought about a Clousseau vs Cato fight scene I watched last night, and found it funnier given the first mouth position.

    So, as Jaybird and Road Scholar, I predict that fake smiling made the comics funnier.Report

  7. Chris says:

    Probably worth noting that the cartoons used were Far Side cartoons! Therefore they were hilarious either way.Report

  8. Chris says:

    I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that different facial expressions, even if unrelated to the task at hand, can influence the task at hand. And the first two studies (the one in the original paper) were not bad studies, methodologically, but we’re talking about a relatively abstract hypothesis (that facial expressions can influence evaluations, or other behavior, even if the behaviors are unrelated to the cause of the facial expressions), with many, many, many possible confounds, so two studies (it wasn’t actually the first set of studies to show this, but earlier studies were terrible) simply isn’t enough to test the hypothesis.

    For all the problems that social psychology has, this may be the biggest one: once someone has produced an interesting result, he or she has little or no incentive to continue testing it, which, combined with the difficulty in publishing null results, particularly null results in replications of someone else’s work, means that a lot of findings like this will exist in the literature with none of the rather obvious follow-ups.

    And the original study is still pretty heavily cited today, rarely with any acknowledgement of methodological or conceptual issues, or the lack of replication.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

      Profit motive seems to give incentive to keep double-checking your work. Because if it wasn’t a true finding, well, you’re going to be not making the money you thought you were.Report

  9. Kazzy says:

    I’ve heard that our general understanding that mood dictates behavior is often reversed. Which is to say that behavior can dictate mood. You’re feeling grumpy and acting like a grump? One way to get out of the funk is to make an intentional effort to be more pleasant. It will feel forced, at least to start, but eventually the effect should take hold. My own personal/anecdotal experiences tell me this is largely true. But there may be more to it than just modifying behavior and smiling even though your sad as there is a mental component as well, which I reckon might serve as the bridge between the physical and the emotional. Maybe @chris knows more?

    Quasi-related… what of the phenomenon that things tend to feel funnier when watched in groups? I laugh much more at things when watching with others — even just one other — than I do alone. What’s the deal???Report

    • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

      Yes, both thoughts and behavior can influence mood. This is of course part of the basic paradigm of Cognitive-Behavioral therapy, but cognitive and behavioral regulation of mood is pretty ubiquitous. In a way, mood disorders (unipolar depression and bipolar disorder, e.g.) involve limiting thoughts and behaviors in ways that make it difficult to regulate mood.

      To your quasi-related question: humor has a social component and social function that is often overlooked. The mutual experience of emotions often heightens them, and at some point you may be laughing less at the joke than at the fact that you’re all laughing.Report

      • Maribou in reply to Chris says:

        Heh, while I was doing all that digging, Chris left a more useful answer than I could give you. (Another facet of librarians’ disease, trying to get to the basic research asap instead of just waiting to see what someone else can offer 😉 )Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        When I learned this, it really changed things for me. I’m generally a happy person, but when I get into a funk, I can spiral downward. It is generally short-lived (as in a matter of hours if that) unless there is something real going on. So if I’m upset with someone, I can get it into my head that I’m upset with them and a feedback loop is created. Suddenly everything they have ever done is cast in a negative light. Monsters! And this shows in my demeanor towards them, consciously or not.

        But now I know I can say, “Hey, yea, you’re upset about X. Address X and then tell the person a joke or a funny story or that you like their shirt. Something to turn the tide.” I regret all the times I let my funks consume me.

        This is also helpful because it allows me to address X. Often times, as I said above, X would turn into A-J, PQRS, X, and sometimes Y. I’d have my little self-indulgent internal temper-tantrum and eventually get distracted by something else and move on… never really addressing X. At least until Z happens at which point X gets added to that list. This oscillation wasn’t healthy.

        As you note, to simply say, “Hey, smile more and you’ll be happy,” is insulting and insensitive to many folks for whom it just isn’t that simple for. But at least some of us — people likely myself — would do well to learn that we may have more control over our emotional state than we realize.

        Thanks for chiming in, @chris .Report

    • Maribou in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy Well, you’re not imagining it (or if you are lots of other people are too, the same problems with lack of replication and overly small sample sizes still apply) … but as to why it happens there’s no real neurological explanation as yet (I think (they are doing some rat tests to try and make better guesses before moving up to more expensive subjects, as far as I can tell from some cursory research. ) )

      If you’re interested in learning more about the study of social groups on laughter, I found this fairly interesting peer reviewed article (this link goes directly to a pdf!) – lots of studies cited in the literature review that you could look into if you want, and the article itself is making a case for the effect of in-group vs out-group status of the other laughers that you hear on social increasing (or not) of laughter.

      You know, you could do all that reading in the copious free time available to a single father. 😉 Yeah, right!

      (I’d be more helpful, but I actually don’t know much more than what I said above either, even at the casual gossip level of information sharing. Librarians’ disease is that we love looking stuff up to start a research trail – esp. if related to an area where we have some subject knowledge to help the research – and then would rather do ANYTHING else than take things all the way to the drawing conclusions stage. And I have a copious case of it this week.)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Maribou says:

        Ha! I just always found it interesting that watching a show with someone else will make me laugh out loud and then watching that same show alone will simply lead me to think, “That was a really funny joke. I should tell someone about that later.” And sometimes I laugh during the retelling!

        I do occasionally laugh out loud alone which always leads to dueling sense of delight and strangeness.Report

        • dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

          The laughing together effect is an interesting one. A while ago i was sitting in a hippyish sound chanting circle thing and the person next to me started laughing, getting me laughing, getting her laughing, (etc) at essentially the fact that we were laughing. Took us a few minutes to stop.

          To some extent maybe it’s like dancing (?). It feels good to dance alone, but it takes some motivation and the music had better be really good. Dancing together we keep dancing together because we’re dancing together, and the music just has to be good enough.Report

  10. Brandon Berg says:

    Sample sizes of the individual studies aside, does it make sense to do a funnel plot with 17 data points? I don’t know how to do the statistical analysis on that, but intuitively that seems too small to reliably generate a decent funnel. As it is, the plot is vaguely triangular; I’m not sure how much more you can expect from 17 points.Report

  11. Kimmi says:

    How different is the smile one gets from “holding a pen in one’s teeth” from a true smile? How different is it from a social “fake” smile?
    (Sorry to put you on the spot if you aren’t trained in analyzing facial expressions).Report