Facial feedback is back

Fritz Strack points us to this new paper, A multi-semester classroom demonstration yields evidence in support of the facial feedback effect, by Abigail Marsh, Shawn Rhoads, and Rebecca Ryan, which begins with some background:

The facial feedback effect refers to the influence of unobtrusive manipulations of facial behavior on emotional outcomes. That manipulations inducing or inhibiting smiling can shape positive affect and evaluations is a staple of undergraduate psychology curricula and supports theories of embodied emotion. Thus, the results of a Registered Replication Report indicating minimal evidence to support the facial feedback effect were widely viewed as cause for concern regarding the reliability of this effect.

But then:

However, it has been suggested that features of the design of the replication studies may have influenced the study results.

So they did their own study:

Relevant to these concerns are experimental facial feedback data collected from over 400 undergraduates over the course of 9 semesters. Circumstances of data collection met several criteria broadly recommended for testing the effect, including limited prior exposure to the facial feedback hypothesis, conditions minimally likely to induce self-focused attention, and the use of moderately funny contemporary cartoons as stimuli.

What did they find?

Results yielded robust evidence in favor of the facial feedback hypothesis. Cartoons that participants evaluated while holding a pen or pencil in their teeth (smiling induction) were rated as funnier than cartoons they evaluated while holding a pen or pencil in their lips (smiling inhibition). The magnitude of the effect overlapped with original reports.

Their conclusion:

Findings demonstrate that the facial feedback effect can be successfully replicated in a classroom setting and are in line with theories of emotional embodiment, according to which internal emotional states and relevant external emotional behaviors exert mutual influence on one another.

Here are the summaries, which, when averaged over all the studies, show a consistent effect:

I’ll leave it to others to look at this paper more carefully and fit it into the literature; I just wanted to share it with you, since we’ve discussed these replication issues of facial feedback experiments before.