When we’re nervous our attention tends to narrow. We stop noticing what’s going on around the edges and only see what’s right in front of us. This is true in both a literal and a metaphorical sense: when nervous or stressed we’re less likely to notice ideas that are at the edge of our consciousness. But to gain insight into a problem, it’s often precisely these peripheral ideas we need.
Cue a smile.
Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.
So a smile really can help give us a burst of insight.
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