How Smiling Affects the Brain (Change Your Mood)


A professional cyclist was having a terrible training ride. Following Dr. Taylor’s advice, the cyclist smiled. At first, he wasn’t happy, so he faked a smile. After two minutes, he was feeling better and his performance improved.(1)

Dr. Taylor intrigued about such a dramatic change, researched the effects of smiling. He learned two things:

  • People become conditioned to the positive effects of smiling. The facial expression sends a sign to the brain that they are happy.
  • Smiling affects brain chemistry. For example, the brain releases endorphins, the body’s natural relaxant.

What Part of the Brain Controls Smiling

Smiling performed deliberately or spontaneously, is controlled by different parts of the brain.

Deliberate smile: The cortex is involved in conscious social smile. People are aware of signals sent to the premotor and motor cortex. Signals contract large muscles around the mouth, pulling lips sideways.(2)

Spontaneous smile: The basal ganglia—which controls spontaneous movements—is necessary for a genuine smile.(3) A heartfelt smile includes the mouth and eye areas. Signals are sent from the amygdala and transmitted to the motor cortex without awareness.(2)

Emotional processes play an important role in every aspect of life. Smiling, for example.


Cheung, S. Zabala. M. (2017). Cycling Science. Kinetics Human. ISBN 978-1450497329.(1)

Carter, R. (2019). The Human Brain Book: An Illustrated Guide to its Structure, Function, and Disorders. DK. ISBN 978-1465479549.(2)

Simpkins, A. Simpkins, C. (2012). Neuroscience for Clinicians: Evidence, Models, and Practice. Springer. ISBN 978-1461448419.(3)

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