| Mindfulness

Put on a Happy Face…to Reduce Pain

Smiling Through Injection Pain

An article published online in Emotion states that “both smiling and grimacing can improve subjective needle pain experiences.” While receiving an injection of saline, over 230 participants held 1 of 4 facial expressions: a Duchenne smile—defined as one that reaches your eyes, with the corners wrinkled up, an authentic expression of happiness—a non-Duchenne smile, a grimace, or a neutral expression. Researchers monitored heart rate and electrodermal activity, and injection recipients reported any pain, emotions, and distress they were feeling. At the moment of receiving the injection, “the Duchenne smile and grimace groups reported approximately 40% less needle pain versus the neutral group.”

“When facing distress or pleasure, humans make remarkably similar facial expressions that involve activation of the eye muscles, lifting of the cheeks and baring of the teeth,” said principal investigator Sarah Pressman, UCI professor of psychological science. “We found that these movements, as opposed to a neutral expression, are beneficial in reducing discomfort and stress. Our study demonstrates a simple, free and clinically meaningful method of making the needle injection less awful. Given the numerous anxiety- and pain-provoking situations found in medical practice, we hope that an understanding of how and when smiling and grimacing helps will foster effective pain reduction strategies that result in better patient experiences.”


Read the press release.

Access the journal article.