When was the last time you flashed a fake smile at the office?
For some, it may be just another mundane aspect of work life — putting on a game face to hide your inner unhappiness. But new research suggests that it may have unexpected consequences: worsening your mood and causing you to withdraw from the tasks at hand.
In a study published this month in the Academy of Management Journal, scientists tracked a group of bus drivers for two weeks, focusing on them because their jobs require frequent, and generally courteous, interactions with many 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, said an author of the study, Brent Scott, an assistant professor of management at Michigan State University.
After following the drivers closely, the researchers found that on days when the smiles were forced, the subjects’ moods deteriorated and they tended to withdraw from work. Trying to suppress negative thoughts, it turns out, may have made those thoughts even more persistent.
But on days when the subjects tried to display smiles through deeper efforts — by actually cultivating pleasant thoughts and memories — their overall moods improved and their productivity increased.
Women were affected more than men. Dr. Scott suspected cultural norms might be at play: women are socialized to be more emotionally expressive, he said, so hiding emotions may create more strain.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Research suggests that an inauthentic smile to hide unhappiness can further worsen your mood.
February 21, 2011