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Smiling & Pain

February 20, 2014

Smiling, even with no emotion behind it, may help people tolerate pain.



Smiling versus pain. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

6028457111_7546b07e4c_bTHomas Rodenbucher Flickr cc

(Credit: Thomas Rodenbücher/Wikipedia)

If you’re getting a shot at the doctor’s office, you may not feel like smiling.  But psychologist Sarah Pressman of the University of California at Irvine and her colleagues may have found a reason to try it anyway. Her team found that people who smiled while getting a needle reported up to 40 percent less pain than people who didn’t. That’s despite the fact that they were essentially tricked into smiling by positioning chopsticks in their mouths.

SARAH PRESSMAN (University of California, Irvine):

And they don’t know that they’re smiling, they just think they’re doing these different weird positions for a multitasking study, while getting a needle.

The smilers also showed less physiological stress as measured by heart rate and skin conductance. Next, Pressman plans to try a similar experiment with kids, and to look more closely at how the muscular action of smiling can produce results like these. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.