The Science of a Smile

UPDATED: November 2, 2015
PUBLISHED: November 2, 2015

When people complain, their facial expressions become scrunched and anxious. When we feel threatened by a negative family member or co-worker, our faces usually reflect exactly what we are trying to reject.

Want people around you to be more positive? Check your face first.

Emotions are highly contagious; they spread through our nonverbal cues. When we interact with people who are in a good mood, we subconsciously begin to copy their body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. Once we mimic these physical behaviors, research shows we actually begin to feel the emotion ourselves. When we smile, our mood elevates. Scientists refer to this as the “facial feedback hypothesis.”

To test this theory, then-Yale psychologist Sigal Barsade, Ph.D., conducted a study in which she assigned a group of volunteers to a task and privately instructed one group member to act overtly positive. Barsade recorded her subjects and tracked the emotions of each individual before and after the session. She found that when the positive person entered the room, his jovial mood was picked up by the rest of the group almost instantly. Incredibly, the performance of each individual increased, and the group’s ability to achieve its goal improved.

Want a more successful team? The next time you walk into a meeting, check your face. Something as simple as smiling could transform your business and your life.

Find out how to deflect bad attitudes so complainers can’t drag you down.

Shawn Achor is a Harvard-trained researcher and best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. Get a daily dose of happy at Shawn's Facebook page.