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2014 October



An Experiment with a Smile

After a cup of coffee, I started walking to the library to work. With music blasting through my earphones, a smile moved onto my face. A rather dour looking woman was approaching, and as she neared, her face transformed into a responding smile. She thought I was smiling at her. Inadvertent or not, it felt good to have another human smile at me.  Same thing happened again; this time with a young man with headphones on. His smile signaled a recognition. I believed we both thought we were on a similar channel. Fun!

I was curious. What would happen if I had intent with my smile? My hypothesis was: if I smiled directly at people who were passing by me, they would smile back. But how often would I be accurate?  The results on this day: one after another, 10 people in a row, smiled back at me.  I was particularly pleased when a very serious looking dad, who was wheeling his small child in a stroller directly at me, actually looked at me and nodded in recognition. It was almost as good as a smile! So, in my small sample, I received a 90% smile response and one nod of recognition.

When I arrived at the library, I began to look at the bigger picture. I realized all this smiling behavior was normal. There was nothing special that I or the strangers were doing. After all we humans are equipped with so many special features. We are programmed to be social creatures. Our “mirror” neurons are a big reason. Mirror neurons allow us to “read” what other people feel.  We can actually feel how someone else feels and experience the same. Whether we watch a friend eating ice cream or seeing a child fall, mirror neurons can place us in another’s shoes.

This ability is at the core of empathy.  I was only experimenting with the conscious use of this feature. And the beautiful part of this experience/experiment was that I got to feel good twice: once for having a smile and again when I was smiled at.

I  was also involved in human’s prime mission when in social situations: predicting and affecting behavior. According to world-renown neuroscientist, Dr. Cornelia Bargmann, the number one motive for all social behavior is predicting and affecting behavior. She proved this even with worms having 300 neuron brains. 

But I had only been successful in a peaceful, suburban neighborhood. There were greater challenges ahead.  My next group: men in tight fitting uniforms on bicycles.