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What is your default facial expression?

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 The "trollface" is one of the most popular smiles on the internet -- even though it nay not be the most genuine. (Whynne/DeviantArt/Wikimedia Commons) If you've ever forced yourself to smile in a less-than-ideal situation, your phony grin may have been a real help.

After conducting a series of smile-testing experiments, researchers from the University of Kansas argue that even disingenuous smiles can help trigger relief.

"Age old adages, such as 'grin and bear it' have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life's stressful events," said Tara Kraft, one of the study's authors.

"We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits."

The researchers tested this theory by literally putting a smile on people's faces, manipulating their facial muscles with chopsticks.

The 169 participants performed stress-inducing activities after being trained to hold either a neutral expression, a standard smile (which involves only mouth muscles) or a Duchenne smile (which involves the mouth and the eyes).

The researchers measured participants' heart rates and self-reported stress levels as they performed their tasks. Some people were trained to hold their expression, while others relied on the chopsticks to keep them smiling even when they weren't thinking about it.

Those who genuinely smiled were able to recover from the stressful activity faster than those who didn't. The results were especially pronounced in people who held a Duchenne smile.

Interestingly, even the chopstick-supported smiles left participants feeling better than those who didn't smile at all.

"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," said Sarah Pressman, the second author of the study.

"Not only will it help you 'grin and bear it' psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well!"

The study will be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Are you the kind of person that smiles all the time? Have you ever been told you look approachable, or intimidating?


(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' replies.)

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