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Sci Rep. 2018 Mar 1;8(1):3558. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-21536-1.

Functionally distinct smiles elicit different physiological responses in an evaluative context.

Author information

1
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Psychology, 1202 W. Johnson St., Madison, WI, 53706, United States. jdmartin7@wisc.edu.
2
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Psychiatry, 6001 Research Park Blvd, Madison, WI, 53719, United States.
3
Bar-Ilan University, Department of Psychology, Ramat-Gan, 52900, Israel.
4
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Psychology, 1202 W. Johnson St., Madison, WI, 53706, United States.

Abstract

When people are being evaluated, their whole body responds. Verbal feedback causes robust activation in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. What about nonverbal evaluative feedback? Recent discoveries about the social functions of facial expression have documented three morphologically distinct smiles, which serve the functions of reinforcement, social smoothing, and social challenge. In the present study, participants saw instances of one of three smile types from an evaluator during a modified social stress test. We find evidence in support of the claim that functionally different smiles are sufficient to augment or dampen HPA axis activity. We also find that responses to the meanings of smiles as evaluative feedback are more differentiated in individuals with higher baseline high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV), which is associated with facial expression recognition accuracy. The differentiation is especially evident in response to smiles that are more ambiguous in context. Findings suggest that facial expressions have deep physiological implications and that smiles regulate the social world in a highly nuanced fashion.

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