A Fake Smile Can be Bad for Your Health, Say Researchers

Pretending to be happy can actually make you more miserable – especially if you’re a woman, according to a new study by Michigan State University researchers.

Fake smile: The researchers found that walking around with a forced smile and faking happiness simply led to people feeling gloomier. Photo: Jessi Harrington/Flickr

“For some, it may be just another mundane aspect of work life — putting on a game face to hide your inner unhappiness,” writes NY Times’ Anahad O’Connor.

However, new research – which will be published in the February issue of the ‘Academy of Management Journal’ – suggests that it may have unexpected consequences: worsening your mood and causing you to withdraw from the tasks at hand.

Putting up an undetectable bright face that will trick others into believing you are happy can actually make you feel quite miserable, claims a new study by Michigan State University researchers.

According to them, conjuring up a fake smile at work and pretending to be happy for the benefit of customers and colleagues is not only counter productive but also makes people depressed and gloomy, especially women.

“Employers may think that simply getting their employees to smile is good for the organization, but that’s not necessarily the case,” says Lead researcher Brent Scott, an assistant professor of management at Michigan State University.

“Smiling for the sake of smiling can lead to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal, and that’s bad for the organization,” he added.

The researchers conducted a study to assess whether fake emotional displays over a period of time can have adverse consequences for health.

They focused on a group of bus drivers for two weeks because their job entails frequent and courteous interactions with various people.

The scientists examined what happened when the drivers engaged in fake smiling, known as “surface acting,” and its opposite, “deep acting,” where they generated authentic smiles through positive thoughts.

A close scrutiny of the drivers revealed that on days when they put a lid on their woes and forced a smile, they were gloomy and more inclined to withdraw from work. Experts theorize that trying to camouflage negative thoughts perhaps makes those thoughts even more persistent.

In contrast, when they displayed authentic smiles by recalling good memories and thoughts their mood was upbeat and the productivity increased. It was noticed that the effect of inauthentic smile was more pronounced in women drivers.

“Women were harmed more by surface acting, meaning their mood worsened even more than the men and they withdrew more from work,” Mr. Scott said. “But they were helped more by deep acting, meaning their mood improved more and they withdrew less.”

Though the researchers did not delve into the reasons behind the gender difference, they suspect that cultural norms might be playing a key role in this.

Women are more prone to be emotionally expressive, hence hiding negative emotions and putting on a fake smile may create more strain and harm.

Although, ‘deep acting’ seemed to improve mood in the short-term, Dr Scott says it’s not a long-term solution to feeling unhappy. “There have been some suggestions that if you do this over a long period you start to feel inauthentic,” Dr Scott stated.

“You’re trying to cultivate positive emotions, but at the end of the day you may not feel like yourself anymore.” [via The Telegraph (UK), Mlive and The New York Times]

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