For instance, it is not unusual to see people smile during or following negative emotional experiences (Ekman, 1989
). Such smiles have often been interpreted as social signals, ways that people regulate emotions interpersonally
. Yet, these smiles might also offer people a means to modulate their own inner experiences of emotions. As William James put it over a century ago (1884/1983, p. 178, emphasis in original): “If we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instant cold-bloodedly, go through the outward motions
of those contrary dispositions we prefer to cultivate.”
Recent empirical evidence has demonstrated that facial expressions of emotion—and smiles in particular—do, in fact, alter inner physiological states: Using a procedure called the directed facial action task, Ekman and Davidson (1993
; Ekman, Davidson, & Friesen, 1990
) instructed individuals to contract certain facial muscles to produce smiles both with and without Duchenne’s marker of enjoyment (muscle contraction around the eyes) and observed that each elicited a distinct pattern of regional brain activity. Previous work has also demonstrated the capacity of directed facial actions to produce emotion-specific autonomic nervous system activity and, under certain conditions and with certain populations, subjective emotional experience (Ekman, Levenson, & Friesen, 1983
; Levenson et al., 1990
; Levenson, Ekman, Heider, & Friesen, 1992
The aim of Study 2 was to provide a conceptual replication and extension of Study 1, this time using a more naturalistic union between negative and positive affects. We tested the hypothesis that people who, for whatever reasons, spontaneously smiled while viewing a sad film would recover more rapidly from the cardiovascular activation induced by that film than those who did not smile.
One thing to wonder is whether we can presume that when a person smiles, especially in a negative emotional context, that that person is experiencing a positive emotion. We think that this is an unnecessary presumption. Given the known connections between facial action and autonomic nervous system activation, it seemed reasonable to predict that facial configurations indicative of positive emotions, namely, smiles, might have the ability to speed recovery from the cardiovascular sequelae of a negative emotion, with or without accompanying changes in subjective experience.
Seventy-two individuals between the ages of 20 and 35 (50% female) were recruited by a San Francisco-based survey research firm to serve as participants in this study. Although not ethnically diverse (all participants were Caucasian), this sample was constructed to represent the socioeconomic distribution of the San Francisco Bay area. Participants were paid $25 for participating in a one-hour study.
A short film clip known to elicit sadness was used in this study. Emotional ratings for the clip, obtained using the same group-screening procedures as described in Study 1, are presented in . The film clip [“Funeral”, drawn from the feature film Steel Magnolias
(Stark, Stone, White, & Ross, 1989
)], shows a woman at her adult daughter’s funeral, surrounded by a group of her women friends. She describes what it was like for her to be with her daughter as she died, and then begins to cry in outrage that her daughter’s life has ended (the subsequent humorous scenes were omitted). Examination of reveals that this film primarily elicits self-reports of sadness, with lesser report of other emotions. The film clip is 205 seconds long and was presented with sound.
The rating dial, audiovisual, and cardiovascular measures were the same as in Study 1.
The procedure for Study 2 was virtually identical to that used in Study 1. The single difference was that, after the pre-film rest period, all participants viewed only one film stimulus, the sad Funeral film. This film was follow ed by a 180-second post-film period during which the video monitor was blank. The entire session was videotaped.
Overview of Analytic Strategy
As in Study 1, we first confirmed that the sad film successfully induced negative emotion by comparing subjective and cardiovascular data obtained during the film to those obtained prior to the film. From the video records, we coded the occurrence of smiles. Next, we tested the hypothesis that spontaneous smiling speeds recovery from the cardiovascular after-effects of negative emotion: Using the same strategies for quantifying the duration of cardiovascular reactivity as used in Study 1, we compared the durations of cardiovascular responding for participants who smiled to those for participants who did not smile.
Baseline Cardiovascular Activity
For each participant, we calculated mean levels (and standard deviations) for heart period (HP), pulse transmission times to the ear (PTE) and to the finger (PTF), and finger pulse amplitude (FPA) across the last 60 seconds of the resting baseline phase. The first two columns of report the means across participants for these individualised baseline means and standard deviations. (Comparison across and suggests that baseline values were generally comparable across the two studies.)
Mean Subjective and Cardiovascular Levels during Pre-film Baseline and Sad Film across Participants (N = 72)
Subjective and Cardiovascular Responses to the Sad Film
For each participant, we calculated mean rating dial reports and cardiovascular activity averaged across the entire 205 seconds of the sad film. These mean values are presented in the third column of . We conducted within-subject t-tests to examine whether these means represented significant changes from baseline levels (see ). Next, for those variables that showed significant change, we also determined peak responses during the sad film. These peak values, presented in the fourth column of , provide a sharper picture of the mean magnitude of participants’ responses to the sad film.
As shows, participants reported feeling reliably more negative during the sad film than during the pre-film baseline period, with rating dial reports dropping an average mean of 0.57 points, and an average maximum of 1.87 points. Participants also exhibited significant changes on three of the four cardiovascular indices during the sad film: (1) pulse transmission time to the ear increased by an average mean of 2.20 m sec, and an average maximum of 28.86 msec; (2) pulse transmission time to the finger also increased by an average mean of 5.56 m sec, and an average maximum of 42.38 m sec; and (3) finger pulse amplitude dropped by an average mean of 2.22 mV, and an average maximum of 7.01 mV. On average, participants showed no reliable mean changes in heart period. Further descriptive analyses confirmed that all participants exhibited cardiovascular reactivity on pulse transmission times to the ear and finger and on finger pulse amplitude, and that no sex differences were evident in either emotion ratings or cardiovascular responses during the sad film.
The pattern of cardiovascular change produced by the sad film reveals a rather complex response, with evidence of increased sympathetic nervous system arousal (decreased finger pulse amplitude) along side evidence of decreased sympathetic arousal (lengthened pulse transmission suggesting decreased cardiac contractility and/or increased vascular distensibility). Comparison across and reveals that the pattern of cardiovascular change from baseline produced by the sad film is notably different from the pattern of change from baseline produced by the fear film in Study 1.3
In sum, the sad film produced reports of negative subjective experience and changes on three of the four cardiovascular measures. These data, together with the pretest data reported in , suggest that the Funeral film was effective in inducing negative emotion and attendant cardiovascular activation.
Measuring Voluntary Smiles
To classify participants as “smilers” or “nonsmilers”, two trained coders (both female) examined the videotape recordings made of each participant. Reliability was established by having the two coders independently score the videotapes for 25 randomly selected participants. Coders tallied the number of times during the sad film that a participant’s lip corners turned up. Not surprisingly, participants differed widely in smile frequency, ranging from 0 to 19 smiles (mean 3.2, mode = 0). Fifty participants (46% female) smiled at least once, whereas 22 (59% female) never smiled. Inter-coder agreement on the dichotomous classification of participants as smilers or nonsmilers was 100%.
Descriptive analyses suggested that smilers and nonsmilers did not differ in their rating dial reports or cardiovascular activity during the pre-film baseline (t-values, with df = 70, ranged from 0.15 to 1.61, all n.s.). Nor did smilers and nonsmilers differ in their mean or maximum subjective and cardiovascular responses to the sad film (t-values, with df = 70, ranged from 0.37 to 1.28, all n.s.). The single exception was that smilers, on average, showed a larger maximum drop in finger pulse amplitude compared to nonsmilers [7.81 vs. 5.18 mV, respectively, t(70) = 2.59, P = .012]. Thus, on the whole, during the sad film, those who smiled did not differ substantially from those who did not smile on these aspects of emotional responding.
Duration of Cardiovascular Reactivity
To test our hypothesis that spontaneous smiling would speed recovery from the cardiovascular after-effects of negative emotion, we looked at the time elapsed until the cardiovascular changes induced by the initial sad film subsided. Duration of cardiovascular reactivity was calculated for each participant individually using the methods described in Study 1. Across all participants, the mean time to achieve recovery from cardiovascular arousal was 42.19 seconds (SD = 37.57, N = 72).
To determine whether smilers and nonsmilers differed in the duration of cardiovascular reactivity, we conducted an omnibus ANOVA, using both smile group and sex of participant as between-subjects variables. This ANOVA yielded a main effect for smile group [F
(1, 68) = 5.03, P
= .028] of medium effect size (omega-squared = .05; Keppel, 1991
) as well as for sex of participant [F
(1, 68) = 4.86, P
= .031, omega-squared = .05]. portrays the differences between smilers and nonsmilers in duration of cardiovascular response. Smilers recovered about 20 seconds faster than nonsmilers (35.9 vs. 56.4 sec, respectively); and men recovered about 20 seconds faster than women (31.8 vs. 52.6 sec, respectively). The interaction between smile group and sex of participant was not significant [F
(1,68) < 1, n.s.], indicating that smiling predicted faster recovery equally well for women and men. Again, as for Study 1, to explore whether outliers might have accounted for this pattern of results, we repeated the analysis of duration scores with nonparametric tests on ranked data. The effects for smile groups and sex remained significant.
Mean time to achieve cardiovascular recovery in Study 2. Error bars represent standard errors of the means.
In sum, although smilers and nonsmilers were virtually indistinguishable in their reports of negative affect and cardiovascular activation during the sad film, once the sad film ended, those who had smiled reliably returned their own baseline levels of cardiovascular activation faster than those who had never smiled.
Smiling during a sad film was associated with faster recovery from the cardiovascular changes occasioned by that sad film. Perhaps, then (to paraphrase William James), putting on a happy face can alleviate unhappiness, at least at the cardiovascular level. It is important to note, however, that the data reported here cannot tell us whether smiling per se was the critical ingredient that sped cardiovascular recovery. Our empirical strategy was to track naturally occurring facial actions to classify participants into one of two groups: smilers or nonsmilers. Other person variables could certainly covary with the tendency to smile in this type of context. For instance, high scores on measures of trait optimism, or trait cheerfulness, or low scores on measures of depression or trait hostility might predict the likelihood of smiling in this context. Further, smiling may be epiphenomenal, a marker of the process that is actually responsible for the restoration of emotional equilibrium (e.g. reappraisal of the sad event). Future experimental tests are needed to confirm whether the facial actions inherent in smiling per se promote speedier cardiovascular recovery.
Although not the intended focus of Study 2, the unanticipated finding that the duration of cardiovascular arousal was longer for women than for men warrants some discussion. First, it should be noted that the Funeral clip is unquestionably women-centred, and by consequence may have sparked more film-related thinking in female participants. Relatedly, considering that the emotion elicited was sadness, it is conceivable that the divergent recovery times reflect women being more likely than men to ruminate about the causes and consequences of their own sad moods (e.g. Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1993
). This ruminative style has been shown to prolong both naturally occurring and laboratory-induced sad moods (Morrow & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990
; Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1993
). Men, in contrast, have generally been found to withdraw more quickly than women from situations that produce negative emotion (e.g. Gottman & Levenson, 1988
), possibly reflecting men’s greater sensitivity to physiological activation (e.g. Katkin, Blascovich, & Goldband, 1981
; Pennebaker & Roberts, 1992
; Roberts & Pennebaker, 1995
) and their greater likelihood to report feeling emotionally negative when physiologically aroused (Levenson, Carstensen, & Gottman, 1994
). Considering that affective disorders are more prevalent in women than in men, issues of sex differences in responses to negative emotion deserve further empirical attention.