Smile Like You Mean It – Reading Emotion Words Leads To Same Emotion In Body

August 7th, 2009

Louis Armstrong sang, “When you’re smilin’, the whole world smiles with you.” Romantics everywhere may be surprised to learn that psychological research has proven this sentiment to be true — merely seeing a smile (or a frown, for that matter) will activate the muscles in our face that make that expression, even if we are unaware of it. Now, according to a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, simply reading certain words may also have the same effect.

Psychologists Francesco Foroni from VU University Amsterdam and Gün R. Semin from the University of Utrecht conducted two experiments to see if emotion language has an influence on facial muscle activity. In the first experiment, a group of students read a series of emotion verbs (e.g., “to smile,” “to cry”) and adjectives (e.g., “funny,” “frustrating”) on a monitor, while the activity of their zygomatic major (the muscle responsible for smiles) and corrugator supercilii (which causes frowns) muscles were measured.

The results showed that reading action verbs activated the corresponding muscles. For example, “to laugh” resulted in activation of the zygomatic major muscle, but did not cause any response in the muscles responsible for frowning. Interestingly, when presented with the emotion adjectives like “funny” or “frustrating” the volunteers demonstrated much lower muscle activation compared to their reactions to emotion verbs. The researchers note that muscle activity is “induced in the reader when reading verbs representing of emotion.”

Can this innate bodily reaction affect our judgments? In another experiment, volunteers watched a series of cartoons and were subliminally shown emotion verbs and adjectives after each one. They were then asked to rate how funny they thought the cartoons were. Half of the participants held a pen with their lips, to prevent them from smiling, while the remaining participants did not have their muscle movement blocked.

The results reveal that even when emotion verbs are presented subliminally, they are able to influence judgment — volunteers found cartoons to be funnier when they were preceded by smiling verbs than if they were preceded by frowning-related verbs. However, this effect only occurred in the volunteers who were able to smile — volunteers who had muscle movement blocked did not show this relationship between emotion verbs and how funny they judged the cartoons as being.

The results of these experiments reveal that simply reading emotion verbs activates specific facial muscles and can influence judgments we make. The researchers note these findings suggest that “language is not merely symbolic, but also somatic,” and they conclude that “these experiments provide an important bridge between research on the neurobiological basis of language and related behavioral research.”

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So if you’re stressed and want to become less so, read the following words…






If you are angry and want to change your emotional state read the following words…








It’s as easy as riding a bike!

Smile during your fantastic weekend !

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

The Top 12 Warning Signs of Good Health and Happiness

If several of these symptoms appear, you may be happy and healthy, visits to the doctor may be greatly reduced.

  1. Regular flare-ups of a supportive network of friends and family.
  2. Chronic positive expectations.
  3. Repeated episodes of gratitude & generosity.
  4. Increased appetite for physical activity.
  5. Marked tendency to identify and express feelings.
  6. Compulsion to contribute to society.
  7. Lingering sensitivity to the feelings of others.
  8. Habitual behavior related to seeking new challenges.
  9. Craving for peak experiences.
  10. Tendency to adapt to changing conditions.
  11. Feelings of spiritual involvement.
  12. Persistent sense of humor.

Whole Earth Review magazine

Have a wonderful Thursday!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

The Samurai and Emotional Awareness – Emotional Awareness Tale

There is an ancient Japanese tale that tells of an aggressive, confrontational samurai who commanded a Zen master to explain the concept of Heaven and Hell to him. The Zen master replied with disdain, “You are no more than a cockroach. I will not waste my time with trash like you.” The samurai was enraged and drew his sword from its scabbard. He roared, “I will kill you for your disrespect!”


In the face of the Samurai’s rage, a peaceful manner came to the Zen master. “That,” the Zen master calmly stated, “is hell.”

Shocked at seeing the truth in what the master observed about the rage that had the samurai in its grip, he regained his composure and put away his sword.  The samurai bowed deeply and gratefully thanked the Zen master for his newfound awareness.

“And that,” said the master, “is Heaven.”

The moral of the story is if you want to change, change your awareness of your self.

Being Emotional vs. Being Emotionally Aware

The sudden “aha” of the samurai to his own vengeful emotions demonstrates the critical difference between being overtaken by an emotion and being aware of being overtaken by an emotion. The difference is subtle yet critical. 

As the philosopher, Socrates, told us thousands of years ago, “Know thyself.” One of the keys to knowing yourself is to be aware of how you feel.

Enjoy Your Thursday!

Dr. John Schinnerer