Smiling is an expression denoting pleasure, joy, and a welcoming demeanor to the world. Is it contagious? According to many studies, smiling is considered contagious and is very rewarding. When a person smiles, neuropeptides, neurotransmitters, dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin are released. These chemicals help lower one’s stress, relax the body, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and serve as a mood lifter. A person smiling is also seen as “attractive, reliable, relaxed, and sincere” .
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Growing evidence has shown that an instinct for facial mimicry allows us to empathize with other people and even experience what they are feeling . According to social psychologists at the University of Wisconsin, people often stimulate their facial expressions to emotionally connect with another person. For instance, you may find yourself in a group of people while your friend looks sad. Without realizing it, you “put on” a sad face as well to connect and empathize with them. Humans do this everyday in a matter of a few hundred milliseconds .
The orbitofrontal cortex plays a role when a person smiles in response to someone else smiling. This cortex sits on top of our eye sockets and is found in front of the brain. It has control over our emotions and memory. Although this part of the brain is poorly understood by scientific researchers, the orbitofrontal cortex is found to be in control of impulse control and response inhibition . Therefore, when one sees someone else smiling, their orbitofrontal cortex is activated, which processes sensory rewards. So when a person catches someone else smiling, they feel rewarded and smile back because of the good feeling.
Many studies have also shown that people are more likely to smile at someone else if they are smiling at them. The cingulate cortex is mostly in charge of facial expressions. In a study, test subjects were told to keep a frown on their faces while looking at pictures with different facial expressions. However, the test subjects tried consciously to keep a frown on although they would instinctively make similar facial expressions to the facial expressions that were shown to them . Clearly, in most cases facial expressions are mirrored onto whomever is looking at them.
Smiling not only make people look better and feel better, but it also has an impact on the people all around you, whether known or not. The old saying “smile and the world smiles with you” by Stanley Gordon West is undoubtedly true, so the next time you see someone don’t forget to smile back because, consciously or unconsciously, they will smile back at you. Your shared positivity can result in someone else’s happiness. As Mother Teresa once said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
“ Science in Our World: Certainty and Cont.” SiOWfa16 Science in Our World Certainty and Controversy, sites.psu.edu/siowfa14/2014/10/21/is-smiling-contagious/.
“Why Smiles (and Frowns) Are Contagious.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 11 Feb. 2016, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160211140428.htm.
 “Know Your Brain: Orbitofrontal Cortex.” Neuroscientifically Challenged, http://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/know-your-brain-orbitofrontal-cortex.