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No reason to smile over failed replication

02 September 2016

A recent attempt to replicate one of the most highly cited pieces of research concerning the 'facial feedback hypothesis' resulted in failure, though researchers are keen to stress this does not mean the entire hypothesis should be rejected.

William James proposed that bodily sensations – a thumping heart, a sweaty palm – aren’t merely a consequence of our emotions, but may actually cause them. In his famous example, when you see a bear and your pulse races and you start running, it’s the running and the racing pulse that makes you feel afraid.

Consistent with James’ theory, a lot of research has shown that the expression on our face seems not only to reflect, but also to shape how we’re feeling. One of the most highly cited pieces of research to support the “facial feedback hypothesis” was published in 1988 and involved participants looking at cartoons while holding a pen either between their teeth, forcing them to smile, or between their lips, forcing them to pout. Those in the smile condition said they found the cartoons funnier.

But now an attempt to replicate this modern classic of psychology research, involving 17 labs around the world and a collective subject pool of 1894 students, has failed.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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