Have you heard of the idea that smiling actually makes you joyful? Perhaps you know of the experiment where researchers got people to hold a pen in their mouth, so they had to smile, and it made them find cartoons funnier. If you’re familiar with this idea, then you’re familar with the work of German psychologist Fritz Strack, who carried out the famous pen-based grinning study, back in 1988. Last year, a group of researchers published a registered replication report (RRR) – an attempt to directly reproduce the 1988 pen-in-the-mouth effect on cartoon appreciation. 17 different sets of researchers carried out identical studies in parallel around the world. The total sample size was 1,894 people. The results were firmly null: there was no evidence that the ‘smiling’ pen condition made cartoons seem funnier.Strack tried to defend his dubious result by saying that null hypotheses are uninformative. I left a comment there about the null hyp thing: Why bother to ask a yes/no question if you're going to ignore the No answers? Nevertheless, the original question deserves more attention. Two-way control of emotions definitely works. Lots of people use it. I use it sometimes. Strack was simply missing the point by using the pen. When you voluntarily set your muscles in a smile, or more importantly loosen the frown muscles, there is a direct and immediate change of emotion. It's much harder to hold a down mood when the facial muscles aren't maintaining it with a positive feedback loop. Break one side of the loop and the other side breaks. I'm not sure why holding a pen in your teeth doesn't work, but I can feel the difference. When I try it, I don't feel any of the smile muscles contracting, and I don't feel the frowners relaxing. The pen just keeps the lips separated, which isn't a smile. (Or at least it isn't part of the smile expresseme in my facial dialect.) Later thought: PURPOSE. Parting your lips to make room for a pen is not the same PURPOSE as shaping your lips into a smile. The pen has no MEANING to your alpha/gamma sensors. The smile expresseme does have a MEANING. When you send the smile-PURPOSE from the brain down to the facial muscles, you are also sending the smile-PURPOSE into the emotional controller bits in the brain.
Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.