Monday, May 24, 2010

The smile on my face

One of the current themes in the analytical philosophy is the relation between body and emotions. On the one hand we have the view, like Antonio Damasio’s, that says that emotions are a kind of knowledge and that they are very important in the process of taking decisions. On the other hand we have the view that emotions are thoughtless bodily reflexes that have no relation to our higher cognitive processes (for example Joseph LeDoux; see the recent article by Rick Anthony Furtak, “Emotion, the Bodily, and the Cognitive” in Philosophical Explorations, 2010/1: 51-64). I tend to support the first view, although Furtak shows in his article that the differences between both views are smaller than one might think.
However this may be, that emotions have a somatic feedback is clear in many ways. Emotions can make us drop tears, can make us laugh, both by changing the expression of our face and by making certain sounds, we can turn pale with fear, or we can blush with shame. But does it work also the other way around? Can we cause emotions within us by moving our muscles in the right way? Experiments have shown that we certainly can. When we make a smile on our face we tend to feel as if we are smiling and it is more likely that we feel amused by a joke or a cartoon. When we make a sad facial expression we tend to feel sad. When we straighten our back we tend to feel pride and when we look to the ground we tend to feel humble. And so on. How this mechanism works is not yet clear. It might be so that a physical expression really causes an emotional expression in a direct way. It is also possible, however, that the physical expression is associated with the emotional expression: We tend to feel cheerful when we make a smile on our face, because we often make a smile on our face when we feel cheerful. Just like that a piece of music may make us think of the first time that we heard it.
Trainers in interpersonal communication and other trainers make use of this relation. They advice to adapt your bodily expression to the right situation. Then you do not only make a better impression on the other people present, you feel yourself also better adapted to the situation and you feel like you are supposed to behave. One can call this manipulation but since I discovered this relation I make use of it to manipulate myself, too, so not in the relation to other people but really towards myself. I simply try to deceive myself by way of speaking. So when I am at the end of a long bike ride with still too many kilometres to go because I feel tired, I simply straighten my back, lift my head, look around and make a smile. It gives me again the right attitude and feeling to go on with a decent speed. I do not want to say that I am less tired then, but at least it feels so.

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