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Head up and chest out. A tip to feel more self-confident that we have probably all heard before. And it seems to be true – our thoughts are closely intertwined with our body sensation and thus, our posture can affect our perception.

“The mind is not only a matter of the brain, but also of the body.”

— António Damásio – Neuroscientist

Neuroscientist António Damásio is right because our muscles are directly connected to our brain. It is not only our brain that gives our muscles instructions for action – our muscles also provide constant feedback to our brain.

How do facial expressions affect our mood?

When we smile, it has a direct positive influence on our emotions. This phenomenon is based on the facial feedback theory. This theory states that our state of mind is not only expressed by our facial expressions but that our facial muscles also transmit information about our emotions to our brain. People who are instructed to smile during a comic, for example, will subsequently find it more positive and enjoyable than people who are not supposed to smile or even show a frown line with contracted eyebrows.

And why is this like that?

After one’s own movement, such as a smile, is consciously perceived, a cognitive inference takes place which says, for example, “I smile, therefore I am happy”. This cognitive processing in turn triggers an emotion. This means that not only our brain tells us that we are happy and should smile, but that the activity of our muscles also has an influence on our mood. Our muscular activity can therefore influence how we feel. For example, if we show a certain facial expression, the intensity of the emotional experience is increased or even a completely new emotion is triggered. If we look angry and frown, this can have a direct negative effect on our mood. If we smile, this can have a positive effect on our emotions. 

In other words, if we consciously smile, we can positively influence our emotional experienceeven if we don’t feel like it at first. In the next difficult situation, just try smiling and observe how your mood changes. 

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Can Botox affect our mood?

A Botox study on facial feedback theory showed that people who had Botox injections in different regions of the face showed less intense emotions. This affected both positive and negative emotions. The nerve toxin Botox blocks the transmission of nerve signals and thus reduces muscular activity. It is therefore often used in cosmetic treatments to reduce the formation of wrinkles on the face. By reducing muscular activity, however, the feedback from the muscles to the brain and thus one’s own emotions are also reduced. This applies to both positive and negative emotions.

The researchers Finzi and Rosenthal (2014) used this knowledge and, within their study, injected Botox into the forehead and the eyebrow furrows of patients with a diagnosed depression. After 6 weeks, the severity of the depression improved significantly in 52% of the patients. The study therefore supports the thesis that Botox which is injected in facial areas reduces the intensity of emotions. 

How your posture positively affects your mood

Similar to facial expressions, our entire posture affects our perception. Research shows that people feel more self-confident when their back is held upright. For example, if we sit completely huddled in a corner, this leads to less self-confidence than an upright and straight posture. 

In a study at Yale University, psychologists found that people rated others as more generous and caring when they were holding a warm cup of coffee and less generous and caring when they were holding an iced coffee. In a second study, they showed that people were more likely to choose a gift for others when they were holding something warm in their hands (a warming cushion) and more likely to keep the gift to themselves when they were holding something cold in their hands (a cold cushion). 

The two studies showed that perceived physical heat or cold can affect social and interpersonal sensation and behavior. The studies thus show how important physical sensations are for our perception, mood and also our behavior.

3 ways your facial expression and posture can make you happier and more confident

Science shows us that our muscular activity and body sensation have a direct influence on our mood – so why don’t we use this knowledge for ourselves? To adopt our posture or to smile consciously may seem like a marginal change, almost too easy – but often we don’t use this simple knowledge for ourselves. Hence the most important tips and insights in the following.

  1. Smile to show your brain that you feel joy. Even if you are not feeling well, a smile can influence your perception and make your brain register a positive emotion and you feel better afterward. This way you can quickly distance yourself from negative emotions and stressful situations.
  2. Become aware of your posture and use it for yourself. Try to sit upright more often to be more self-confident, attentive and present, especially in important situations or conversations.
  3. Often you forget – especially in stressful situations – to think of these simple tips and to apply them exactly in this situation. Therefore it is helpful to create small reminders. Take notes on your smartphone or write them down on post-its to remember to smile or to sit upright.

Self-care challenge

Try to smile for 2 minutes at a time the next time you feel sad, insecure or angry and see what happens to your mood.

What connection have you observed between your body sensation and your mood? If you have any feedback, questions or additions to the article, please feel free to message us here or on instagram (@psychologyjungle). The anonymous comment function allows for an exchange of content. Make sure you treat everyone with respect, even when we are on the Internet 🙂

References (click to expand)

Andréasson, P., Dimberg, U. Emotional Empathy and Facial Feedback. J Nonverbal Behav 32, 215–224 (2008).

Buck, R. (1980). Nonverbal behavior and the theory of emotion: The facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38(5), 811–824.

Davis, J. I., Senghas, A., Brandt, F., & Ochsner, K. N. (2010). The effects of BOTOX injections on emotional experience. Emotion, 10(3), 433.

Finzi, E.; Rosenthal, N. (2014): Treatment of depression with onabotulinumtoxin A: A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial. Journal of Psychiatric Research 52: 1–6. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2013.11.006 

McIntosh, D.N. Facial feedback hypotheses: Evidence, implications, and directions. Motiv Emot 20, 121–147 (1996).

Hennenlotter, A., Dresel, C., Castrop, F., Ceballos-Baumann, A. O., Wohlschläger, A. M., & Haslinger, B. (2009). The link between facial feedback and neural activity within central circuitries of emotion—New insights from Botulinum toxin–induced denervation of frown muscles. Cerebral Cortex, 19(3), 537-542.

Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth. Science, 322(5901), 606-607.