While in the process of conceptualizing and evolving Laughter Yoga in 1995, I went through several research studies about how faking emotions can produce real physiological and psychological changes. One such study was by Paul Ekman, published in 1990, which corroborated very well with Professor William James’ theory of motion creates emotion.
Here is the summary of Ekman’s original research paper, which I recently found and want to share it with you:
Robert Levenson of University of California, Berkeley, and Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen of University of California, San Francisco, conducted four experiments to show that facial action produces similar associated emotions in the brain. For example, if you facially express emotions like fear, disgust, anger, sadness, happiness and surprise, there will be a distinct production of negative and positive emotions corresponding to the action, which can play an important role in your social-emotional life.
Normally, people cannot choose which emotion to have, or for how long. These experiments have somewhat modified this belief that if one can determine which facial action produces the subjective experience of emotion, it could provide a more active means of altering our emotional life.
Very often people make expressions on their faces while viewing the expression of others, which leads them to experience a similar emotion. This states that facial expression may not just be a social signal, it can provide means for establishing mutual feeling, thereby playing a role in producing emotions of empathy, attachment, and bonding.
In one experiment using actors, researchers concluded that participants’ experienced strong physical sensations when they contracted facial muscles, which produced actions related to certain emotions. They were even asked to relive a past emotional experience for each of the emotions they configured facially. Results showed that both the action and the relived emotions produced autonomic changes that enabled distinctions to be made among emotions. The differences between positive and negative emotions, were clearly seen even in bodily reactions.
Using college students and non- actors, the researchers also studied voluntary control of facial muscles to see if it produced a similar emotion and a corresponding physical reaction like increased/ decreased heart rate, skin conductance, finger temperature, and muscle activity. They found distinct differences between reactions to negative and positive emotions. There were autonomic differences among emotions when the subjects produced facial configuration that most closely resembles the associated emotional expression.
All the findings during this study concludes that facial action task produces significant levels of associated emotions and that there is a reliable autonomic difference among primary emotions of anger, disgust, sadness, happiness, fear and surprise. The changes in the heart rate, finger temperature and skin conductance due to positive and negative emotions are the same for both men and women, trained actors, facial scientists, and untrained subjects.
You can download the original paper by clicking here.