International Smile Day!
Do you know that using brain imaging (fMRI), scientists have explored areas of the brain that are activated when we see another person smile? Of course, you’d expect the visual areas of the brain to light up like a Christmas tree. But other areas of the brain light up too, including the premotor cortex, an area that helps activate our own smiling muscles and the somatosensory and insular cortices, areas that report what it feels like physically and emotionally to smile. Neurons that fire both when we observe and when we take part in action are called mirror neurons. When we see someone smile, mirror neurons simulate our own smiling. Does this simulation or reenactment help us to understand what another person is feeling? Of course,….
When we see another person smile and then mentally simulate that smile or respond with one of our own, we feel happier. Make a simple experiment, watch another person smiling and you will see that that simple view triggers a whole series of changes in your brain and autonomic nervous system. We can never really know what it feels like to be someone else, but our mirror neuron system and the ability to mentally simulate another’s actions may bring us closer to understanding each other.
So TODAY, the International Smile Day, I might be reminded a smile can uplift the spirits of someone who might be feeling down. It can be the spark that changes someone’s day from ho-hum to joyous. That is why my grandson Caleb looks so happy in the picture!
Dr. Thomas Agrait – Lean Enterprise Consulting, Inc.