Welcome to my blog, a place to explore and learn about the experience of running a psychiatric practice. I post about things that I find useful to know or think about. So, enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Smile and Smile

Watching my dog has got me thinking a lot about the genetic underpinnings of behavior. She's a rescue, so I don't know what her lineage is, but she seems to be some mix of terrier and herding dog. The herding behavior is fascinating. When we have people over, she's fine as long as everyone is sitting around the table, which she views as a kind of pen. When someone gets up, she starts barking and nipping at their heels to get them back in the "pen". In the dog park, when dogs start chasing each other, instead of joining directly in the pack of running dogs, she goes at them in an arc that cuts off the lead dog. And the other day, I had her off-leash in a large, empty field. She loves to run, and she took off, but almost immediately she started running in circles with increasingly smaller radii.

She doesn't live on a sheep farm in New Zealand, with lots of older, wiser dogs to teach her how to herd. She just herds, even when there are no herd animals around, which implies she's "wired" for these behaviors, whatever that means. I'm accustomed to thinking of DNA as dictating things like eye color and predisposition to certain diseases. I even read somewhere that whether or not you like cilantro is genetically determined. But complex behaviors like herding?

When she was around 4 months old, I noticed that she, as well as other dogs, not only mark territory, but after they've urinated on a spot to mark it, they hold up their chests and heads, and make these feet-wiping movements. The posture makes them look proud. But that's probably backwards. It's more likely that I associate pride with that posture. That I've assigned a meaning, or a name, to a particular behavior that exists regardless of what I call it or think of it.

This is the frame of mind I brought to reading, Turning the Frown Upside Down: Using Botulinum Toxin to Treat Depression. The premise for the study is the Facial Feedback Hypothesis, which states that, "...facial movement can influence emotional experience. For example, an individual who is forced to smile during a social event will actually come to find the event more of an enjoyable experience."

The article is just a little blurb, but there's some interesting research on this. In Cosmetic use of botulinum toxin-A affects processing of emotional language, Havas, et al, had patients, all women, I believe, read happy, sad, and angry sentences before and after being injected with botox in the corrugator supercilii muscle, for frown lines. They found that botox significantly slowed the reading of sad and angry sentences, while not affecting the time for reading the happy sentences. There are plenty of problems with this study, but the idea that you would feel less sad or angry if you were unable to frown, is fascinating.

So, frown less, feel better. How about, smile more feel better?

In Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: A nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis, Strack et al tried to control for the fact that in previous studies of facial feedback, subjects were able to easily discern what was being tested. What Strack et al did differently was tell the subjects that the purpose of the study was to determine the difficulty people who can't use their arms or hands have with tasks, such as writing. They had one group hold pens with their lips, resulting in a frown. A second group held pens in their teeth, resulting in a smile. And the control group held pens in their non-dominant hands. All groups had to fill a questionnaire, and rate the difficulty involved. The last task was to rate the funniness of a cartoon. As expected, the teeth group found it much funnier than the lip group.

The ideas underlying the facial feedback hypothesis are not new.

Darwin writes:
The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions... Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds. 
(The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals)

In What is an Emotion?, William James (1884) writes:

Our natural way of thinking about these standard emotions is that the mental perception of some fact excites the mental affection called the emotion, and that this latter state of mind gives rise to the bodily expression. My thesis on the contrary is that the bodily changes follow directly the PERCEPTION of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion....we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be...

That the heart-beats and the rhythm of breathing play a leading part in all emotions whatsoever, is a matter too notorious for proof. And what is really equally prominent, but less likely to be admitted until special attention is drawn to the fact, is the continuous co-operation of the voluntary muscles in our emotional states....In depression the flexors tend to prevail

in elation or belligerent excitement the extensors take the lead.

Maybe Shakespeare was wrong. Maybe you can't, "Smile and smile and be a villain." Unless, that is, you enjoy being a villain.