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The Positive Psychology of

The Role of Smile in Human Individual and Social

Psychology Essay Project
January 15, 2014
Word Counts (include everything): 2844

Bodhinanda Chandra
Civil Engineering
Department of Earth Resources, Marine and Civil Engineering
School of Engineering

I. Introduction
The name of Positive Psychology was initially proposed as the new branch of psychology
by two psychologists from University of Pennsylvania, United States of America (USA), Martin
Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in 1998. In their journal published on 2000, the next two
years, titled Positive Psychology: An Introduction, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi wrote their
researches and understandings specifically about the role of psychological behavior in terms of
arising positive effects in human functioning. They believed that these beneficial effects will be
effective interventions in order to build thriving individuals, families, and communities
(Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). There are a lot of discussions in their studies such as
parenting, marriage, finances, etc. However, one of the most mesmerizing topics is the
discussion of Happiness, particularly about the idea of happiness level, categorization of happy
life, as well as the questions about what give people happiness and why become happy is
As smile is one of the common expressions of happiness (Wenner, 2009), this essay will
discuss and explain the importance of smile while looking to its role and benefits in human body
and social life. It will be structured as follow: introduction, development of ideas, and closed
with conclusion.

II. Development
Smile and Its Universality
Armindo Freitas-Magalhes, a Portuguese psychologist who is currently working on the
psychology of the human smile in the context of emotion and facial expression, in his book titled
Emotional Expression: The Brain and The Face defines smile as;
A facial expression formed by flexing the muscles near both ends of the mouth and by
flexing muscles throughout the mouth. (Freitas-Magalhes & Castro, 2010)
Smiling, like most basic facial expressions, communicates to people nearby what a person is
actually feeling. Naturally, human will smile as they are happy and otherwise frown because of
sad. However, Freitas-Magalhes argued that smile is not only used for expressing happiness, but
also for communicating other feelings such as love, pride, contempt, and embarrassment
(Freitas-Magalhes & Castro, 2010).
Smile itself may have evolved differently among species and especially among humans. In
his book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin suggested that
facial expressions indicate the intention of animals, and by extension, humans. In his
explanation, an animal such as dog or monkey will bare its teeth as a warning to other animals.
Similarly, he suggested humans co-opted this behavior as a greeting or gratitude (Darwin, 1872).
As smile has been evolved with human for more than 30 million years, it has become a part
of human basic biological expression in which that it is universal to all human. Smile is also
natural behavior, not a nurture, which means that human do not have to learn and would not
forget how to do it (Jones, 2008). In fact, human have actually started to smile even when they
still becoming fetus in the womb (Campbell, 2002). In the other case after nativity, the newborn
infant who is not yet influenced by social environment shows their first smiles during sleep, and
only when get drowsy (Emde, Gainsbauer, & Harmon, 1976). Furthermore, regarding to its
universality, in the studies of universal emotions which conducted in Papua New Guinea by Paul
Ekman and Wallace Friesen, two well-known psychologists whose research is about facial
expressions, it is demonstrated that even a cultural tribe who live in remote area that have no
contact with the outside world share the same expression of happiness through smiling (Ekman
& Friesen, 1971). They showed that those tribesmen, who are also famous of their practice of
cannibalism, will also smile when hear a description of situation in the same way that normal
people would do.

Picture 1. 4D scan of a sleeping fetus at 31 weeks gestation. (Left)
Picture 2. Image taken two frames (0.4 s) after that in Figure 1, showing a smile. (Right)
(Campbell, 2002)
The Benefits of Smile in Human Health
As one of the universal human facial expressions, smile could give numerous advantages
which are useful to improve and develop human body functional system. One of the most
important roles of smile is that it can increase the bodys immune system. On bodys
biochemical level, studies have shown that genuine, spontaneous, wide and pure smile or usually
called as Duchenne smile may releases endorphins, which acts as a natural painkiller in human
body (Kleiman, 2012). Hence, the more endorphins the brain releases, the more a human body
can fight off symptoms of illness.
In a journal titled "Does happiness help healing?" Immune response of hospitalized children
may change during visits of the Smiling Hospital Foundation's Artists, several Hungarian
Psychoneuroimmunologists studied that positive emotions may have effect in increasing
hospitalized childrens immune system. They took the blood samples, in a non-painful way, for
about 30 minutes before and 1 hour after a group of children were visited by tale tellers,
puppeteers, and handicraft artists. As results, it was found that the increase of a type of white
blood cell, called lymphocytes, was 8.43% higher and the decrease was 12.45% lower in the
visited group (Bres, et al., 2011). In short, the productivity of lymphocytes also increased due to
the effect of happiness as well as smile, which respectively increase the childrens immune
system in order to cure a particular disease.
An additional hormone which also known be released by smiling is called Serotonin. It is a
brain chemical that acts as a natural anti-depressant and a very beneficial hormone which
increase numerous metabolism systems such as appetite, memory, muscle movement,
reproduction system, as well as sleep and mood (Nordqvist, 2013). In the other side, smiling also
can reduce various stress inducing hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and dopamine (Gutman,
2011) that may increase humans heart rate, blood pressure, or breathing rate.
Another important facts and well-known benefits of smile is that it is able to decrease
humans hearth rates and blood pressure. Heart rates normally quicken or even skip beats during
stressful situations, according to the National Institutes of Health (U.S. National Institutes of
Health, 2011). However, when people smile, instead of accelerating, the heart rates and blood
pressure decrease and correspondingly make people feel less stress and relax. In the study which
was conducted at University of Kansas that involved around 170 college-aged subjects, scientists
showed that the groups of participants who performed Duchenne smile and standard smile while
holding a chopstick in their mouth and taking part in multi-tasking activities turned out to have
lower heart rates after some recovery period than those who had neutral expressions (Kraft &
Pressman, 2012). The same experiment results also showed that smiling during a stressful
condition can in fact help to reduce the intensity of the bodys stress response, regardless of
whether a person actually feels happy. In the press release at The Wall Street Journal, Pressman
said, The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you
might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment. Not only will it help you grin and bear it
psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well! (The Wall Street Journal,
Currently, there are a lot of researches aiming to analyze the other beneficial effects of smile
to humans health functioning system. However, the most interesting yet remarkable results is an
experiment by Center for Human Growth and Development of Wayne State University titled
Smile intensity in photographs predicts longevity. This study seems to be the umbrella that is
able to conclude the influence of smile, looking to its relation to human life expectancy. The
researchers, who observed the smile intensity of pre-1950s major league baseball card, found
that the span of the players smile actually can predict the span of their life. Players who did not
smile in the picture have an average of only 72.9 years, where players who smile widely live on
average of 79.9 years (Abel & Kruger, 2010). From the results, it showed that people who
frequently Duchenne smile may have on average 7 years longer life expectancy than people who
rarely do.

Picture 3.
Smile intensity in photographs predicts longevity chart
Smile in Human Social Interaction
Smile as what have been explained by Charles Darwin is one of the facial expressions that
evolve with human in order to indicate their intention or communicate to people surroundings.
As a tools of communication, smile has also play an advantageous role for human in their social
life and interaction with another human. One of the easiest example is that smile could actually
make people look younger and more attractive in the eyes of other people. German researchers
from the Max Planck University in Berlin, found that smiley and happy people were more
attractive and had more youthful appearances than their solemn counterparts. The study asked
around 150 both men and women to guess the age of more than 1000 face photographs and
found that happy faces were voted as the youngest looking (Hazell, 2011). From the results,
researchers concluded that on average, smiling can makes people look two years, three years for
women, younger that their actual age.
Besides, smile is not only can makes human more attractive for others, it also could make a
person look more reliable. When people deal with a big number of societies, a genuine smile has
been shown to increase trustworthiness. In a study conducted by researchers from University of
Liverpool collaborated with University of Vienna, 60 people who are divided into two groups of
Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiles were covertly filmed and asked to complete a series of
questionnaire while interacting with a friend in two conditions: control and sharing (Mehu,
Grammer, & Dunbar, 2007). Interestingly, Duchenne smiles group were displayed at higher rates
in the sharing situation as opposed to the control situation, whereas non-Duchenne smiles were
unaffected by the type of interaction. The Duchenne smile could therefore be an important signal
in the formation and maintenance of cooperative relationships, which means that people who
often smile are rated higher in extraversion and generosity. In addition, another interesting study
that aimed to measure the exact impact of a smile in person reliability in terms of business and
economic partnership showed that a smile in fact could increase other peoples willingness to
trust by 10% (Scharlemann, Eckel, Kacelnik, & Wilsonc, 2001). These data generally showed
that smile indeed influence a person social development inside a society.
Last but not least, smile actually could persuade other people nearby to smile as well. A
research of psychologists from Uppsala University in Sweden on 2011, found that it is very
difficult to frown when looking at someone who smiles (Dimberg & Sderkvist, 2011). Professor
Ulf Dimberg, one of the researchers, conducted an experiment by measuring the facial muscle
activity of 120 volunteers while they were exposed to picture of both happy and angry faces.
Even though volunteers were trying to control their natural reactions, the twitching in their facial
muscles told a different story. Professor Giacomo Rizzolatti, from University of Parma, in his
journal titled The Mirror-Neuron System, believes there is a mirror neuron in the brain that
triggers the part responsible for the recognition of faces and expressions and causes an instant
mirroring or imitating reaction (Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004). In the other words, whether
people realize or not, they automatically copy the facial expression they see, as neonatal or
newborn animal imitating a facial expression as their learning process. When people nearby see a
person smiling, as explained, they are more likely to smile as well, even though that they perhaps
do not know the reason of smiling.
III. Conclusion
In summary, smile, as one of the most common expression of happiness, has a very important
role and numerous advantageous in order to arise human functional system. Those positive
effects are not only effective to build individuals life and healthiness, but also strengthen
humans social relationship. As it has evolved together with human, the roles of smile in human
life are found to be universal for every human all over the world, even in the remote area. It has
become human natural facial expression that we do not have to learn about how to do it. In fact,
a person has already started smiling before and just after nativity.
In the terms of healthiness, researches about smile found that it can boost the productivity of
several immune and protection hormone or cell. For instance, endorphins, serotonin, as well as
lymphocytes which increasing humans body endurance to particular sickness or stress. In the
other hands, smiling also reduce various stress enhancing hormone such as cortisol, adrenaline or
dopamine decrease heart rates and blood pressure that will respectively make a person become
more relax and less stress. Overall, smile also could make ones life longer approximately 7
years than people who are rarely to smile.
Looking at the influences of smiling in determining humans social life, science has also
proved that the more people smile, the more positive reactions they will receive from others.
Smile is not only giving a person a younger looks for roughly 2 years, but also make ones face
look more attractive in the eyes of people nearby. In addition, smile also could increase
someones reliability in front of others. Besides, since smiling can make people nearby to smile
as well, smiling can create a better environment for human in order to live as a society.
Lastly, even though evidence shows conclusively that smile build humans personal and
social life, it is still reasonable to think that smile has no involvement on improving humans
quality. There are some possibilities that people who live with fewer smiles may have the same
quality of life than people who often smile. Otherwise, people who is likely to smile every time
may also live in worse quality, for instance the case that people who suffer for down syndromes
or other mental disabilities. In the other hands, it is important to understand that simply smiling
would not actually stop harmful things happen, such as sickness or depression. However, smile
does give a person the tools to better deal with those situations. Only by understanding the real
values about positive psychology of smile, people can understand more about how to reach a
better and more meaningful happy life.

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