Tag Archives: #science

The science of smiling in our post-mask moment

Fingers crossed, the days of widespread mask usage are behind us. We can finally meet face-to-face in the most literal sense, with the full spectrum of our facial expressions visible once more. This is important to cultivating relationships; they say a picture is worth a thousand words and we’d argue a facial expression is the same.

But facial expressions aren’t just about how other people feel – it also affects how we feel ourselves. Considering today marks the beginning of National Smile Month, we wanted to use this article to talk about the science of smiles, now we can see them once more.

The ripple effect of smiling

It’s unsurprising that smiling and laughing are good for your mental health. After all, they’re the symptoms of happiness which are, in fact, hormonal. When you smile, your brain releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. The endorphins act as a mild painkiller and serotonin is an antidepressant. One study even suggests that smiling can reduce our heart rate and help us cope better with stress.

The effects of smiling aren’t limited to one individual. Many of us have observed the ripple effect of smiling or laughing, where a positive atmosphere can fill the room. In scientific terms, this is known as the “facial feedback hypothesis”, which states that facial expressions have the ability to modulate subjective experiences. Fascinatingly, this theory was proven by Swedish scientists in 2011.

Fake it ’til you make it

A recent study conducted at the University of South Australia found you don’t even need to be happy to reap the benefits of a smile. According to their research, when a person’s facial muscles are arranged in a smile, it can trick the brain into feeling good. This was tested by participants’ emotional responses when they were holding a pen in their teeth, mimicking the muscular form of a smile.

According to cognition expert Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos, who worked on the study, “when you forcefully practise smiling, it stimulates the amygdala – the emotional centre of the brain – which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state.” In conclusion, Dr Marmolejo-Ramos suggested that “a ‘fake it ’til you make it’ approach could have more credit than we expect.”

A new meaning for “grin and bear it”

Smiling isn’t only a symptom of happiness; it can also be a cause. These studies show that smiling helps us manage stress and get through day to day life; in fact, there could be more substance to the expression “grin and bear it” than we may think. These benefits don’t just apply to individuals – smiling can make others around you feel more positive too. 

So, now we’re transitioning into more positive times after the pandemic, we can tentatively take off the masks and crack a smile. Reading each other’s facial expressions is crucial to cultivating positive relationships, so it’s high time we embraced being truly face-to-face once more. Although there might still be challenging times to come, it’s scientifically proven what a positive outlook can do.



Building climate-ready communities: What’s next?

This week the United Nations marks The International Week of Science and Peace, which seeks to highlight how progress in science and technology supports the maintenance of peace and security. Founded in 1986, this event has run ever since to promote international cooperation in changing lives for the better.

One of the most pressing topics regarding the safety and security of our communities is climate change. Climate change has the potential to severely impact the well-being of millions, so it is crucial we innovate to act. Therefore, the subject of this year’s keynote speech was “Building climate-ready communities”, which took place last Friday.

They invited various interesting scientists and activists to contribute, sharing ideas about farming, irrigation and climate change strategy going forward. However, perhaps what’s most relevant to our sector is what a climate-ready built environment is going to look like – and here, in honour of The International Week of Science and Peace, we’ll share some ideas.

Protection from extreme heat

Initiatives are working to turn back the clock on global warming, but the reality is that extreme heat may affect many in the years to come. Studies show that by 2050, 1.6 billion people living in more than 970 cities will be regularly exposed to extreme temperatures.

However, there are things that architects and engineers can do to alleviate pressure. They can look to traditional techniques used in hot countries like Egypt and Vietnam, where for centuries, buildings have been designed with heat absorbent stone with plenty of ventilation. Alternatively, there are more futuristic methods, like green roofs and reflective materials that cool structures without the need for costly AC.

Defences against drought

Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns everywhere, which means that even in rainy Britain drought may become more commonplace. This could mean that rainwater harvesting and recharge systems like those seen in hotter climates may become a more common sight on roofs in the UK.

A further cost-effective, naturally-powered drought defence system is to plant trees and vegetation around buildings. The roots act like sponges to replenish groundwater and absorb more water during rainy seasons. In China, they’re already implementing ambitious urban planting projects to control and harvest rainwater in 30 cities.

Ready for rising sea levels

Rising sea levels is probably one of the most urgent issues facing the UK. In other parts of the world, the threat of extreme flooding has been a reality of everyday life for centuries. In South East Asia, houses are built on pillars to allow water to flow underneath during the monsoon season.

In Bangladesh, they’ve already proposed more innovative solutions. Architects have proposed a buoyant building that would rest on pillars with floating tanks that raise the structure during floods. It’ll be interesting to see if we start seeing this type of architecture appearing around British coastlines and estuaries.

A new built environment

Being “climate-ready” demands that we are prepared for different extremes of weather and understand what climate change could mean for the future. Governments and industry need to join together to make sure we’re ready for what the climate crisis may bring, and indeed, do our best to reverse it. It will certainly be fascinating to see what new innovations in engineering this urgent project will bring.