A Smile Can Change Your Brain. Can a Smiley Face do the Same?

smiley-face-Carol Kinsey GomanWhenever I give a presentation on the impact of body language in the workplace, I always include a section on the power of a smile.

That’s because research shows that facial expressions send feedback from your face to your left frontal cortex, which in turn triggers the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine into your brain. These “happiness” chemicals begin to improve your mood.

In addition, smiling increases your charisma. University of California’s psychology professor Howard Friedman has conducted extensive research on the role that body language and nonverbal cues play in our perception of charisma. According to Friedman’s research, charismatic people tend to smile more than the average person, with a distinct crinkling around the eyes that demonstrates the genuine intent of the smile.

And smiles are universally evaluated as friendly. Genuine smiling (that eye-crinkling kind) is a universal human indicator of acceptance, inclusion, and friendliness — regardless of where in the world you are doing business.

Beyond the workplace, smiles retain their positive influence. A 2001 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that women flashing bright, warm smiles in their college yearbook photos reported experiencing less anxiety, sadness and despair 30 years later. In comparison to their more sober-looking classmates, these smiling women had more social connections and more fulfilling lives.

Perhaps best of all, when we smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back can also change that person’s brain chemistry and emotional state in a positive way.

Very powerful consequences for one small facial expression!

But what about those emoticon smiley faces? Could those possibly have a similar effect?

Surprisingly, research suggests the answer is yes. A study at Australia’s Flinders University found that that the pattern of brain activity triggered by looking at an emoticon smiley face is similar to when someone sees a real smiling human face.

If you’d like to test this theory – or just want to start making your commute more fun – check out a new product, MotorMood that is currently being funded through Kickstarter. It is designed to make commuting by automobile a happier experience.

Our faces are directly wired into the emotional center of the brain, and smiling is a form of facial feedback that elevates our moods. I don’t know that flashing a MotorMood at another driver will reduce road rage – but I do know that flashing a genuine smile at a co-worker can brighten up both your days!

Carol Kinsey Goman

Carol Kinsey Goman

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., president of Kinsey Consulting Services, is a keynote speaker, executive coach, and leadership consultant. Clients include 105 organizations in 24 countries. Carol is a leadership contributor for Forbes and the Washington Post. She has authored eleven books. Her latest book is The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help or Hurt How You Lead. A leading authority on leadership, change-management, collaboration, and body language in the workplace, Carol has been cited in media such as The Wall Street Journal, Industry Week, Investor's Business Daily, CNN's Business Unusual, SmartBrief on Leadership, Executive Excellence, Oprah.com, NPR's Marketplace, Fox News, and the NBC Nightly News. Carol has served as adjunct faculty at John F. Kennedy University in the International MBA program, at U.C. Berkeley in the Executive Education Department, for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States at their Institutes for Organization Management and is a current faculty member with the Institute for Management Studies.

1 Reply to "A Smile Can Change Your Brain. Can a Smiley Face do the Same?"

  • Kirk Schmidt
    January 17, 2016 (4:26 am)

    Nice thoughts,…I can only comment them with a broad genuine SMILE!