Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Director of the Social Psychology Doctoral Program and the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory, President-Elect, International Positive Psychology Association Kenan-Flagler School of Business
So, Brett you were saying earlier that love is typically viewed as unconditional.
And I said, well, actually, I think this is not unconditional.
And I know people kind of bristle with that, saying, no,
my philosophy says it's unconditional.
And, and I guess I should admit that I'm using the,
the word unconditional in a slightly different way here.
In that these micro-moments of positive connection, this positivity resonance that
we can feel with others, doesn't emerge, not matter what, regardless of conditions.
And so, I think there are a couple of key preconditions that
need to be in place in a situation in order for these moments to emerge.
And so, that's what I mean by not unconditional,
is that they're key preconditions.
One really poignant precondition, is the sense of safety.
You know, if people don't feel safe, if they feel threatened in any way,
then that sort of easy openness that would allow them to connect and kind of feel, or
co-experience a positive emotion, is, is not going to be there.
because it'll, people'll be on kind of an alert, or try to be self-protective.
So you know, to the extent that you want to be able to cultivate these moments
in a classroom, or in a, a community setting, or in a family.
You know, the first thing to do is make sure people feel safe, you know,
that's a key one, but the another really key
preconcept precondition, is that people are connected.
And by this I mean, real time sensory connection,
like being face-to-face, or using our phones the way we used to,
actually talking on them [LAUGH] as opposed to using your thumbs.
That this is where the embodied part of positivity resonance comes into play,
is that if we really want to co-experience positive emotions with another,
we have to have them on the same time scale, as others.
Like let me, let me help illustrate why connections matter so much.
It's because when we, you know, meet up with somebody, are,
and are feeling positive, we might smile, right, okay?
That smile is going to be an, in,
in a way an invitation, kind of pulls for a smile in the other person.
Whether we try to or
not, we mimic other people's facial expressions, especially their smiles.
And one of the fascinating things in this research area is that,
you know, the experts on the human face will say, you know,
there's some 50 different kinds of smiles.
You know, how is it that we know, what each smiles means?
You know, the, the, the differences between them can be really subtle.
I mean, there's one kind of smile, like if, if I'm just sitting here
enjoying some chocolate, all in my own little world, that's one kind of smile.
[LAUGH] Another kind of smile is, hey, I'd like to have a conversation, and
get to know you more.
Or another kind of smile, could be kind of a gloating smile,
like I just won the game.
[LAUGH] You know, or something.
And, and so research shows that if we don't make eye contact with people, we're
actually really poor at distinguishing the different meanings of smiles.
But that, when we make eye contact,
we're, our intuitions about what that smile meant, like oh,
that, that was kind of a smug smile, as opposed to a friendly smile.
You know, we're, we're kind of cut off from that,
embodied wisdom about what a smile means, if we don't make eye contact.
and, and the, the, the, the logic or the theory about why this is the case,
is that when we make eye contact, that's when we mimic.
So, eye contact unlock, unlocks mimicry.
And we don't mimic faces that we don't make eye contact with.
So, we mimic faces when we make eye contact.
And that mimicry is not just surface mimicry.
It's not just happening on the face.
It's happening in terms of a neural mimicry as well.
So, that when you mimic somebody's smile,
a version of that emotional state is going on in you, and in the other person.
And that kind of informs your gut wisdom, of,
you know, is that an authentic smile or not?
And you, you had mentioned the other day about oh,
you kind of just know, that, when it's authentic or fake, you know?
So, I think that's true.
We do, we have these great,
kind of internal, ways of reading authenticity, and positivity.
But it's when we're face-to-face.
It's very hard to do that, when we're not making eye contact, or
we're not face-to-face.
>> Does the mimicry work with voice tone and things with the phone?
>> Yeah. I think that this is why I say connection
is not necessarily always face-to-face, but real time sensory connection.
And talking on the phone offers that-
>> Mm-hm. >> Real time sensory connection.
because there's so
much emotional information that can be conveyed by the voice.
And it's, you know, it's experienced in real time.
>> but, you know, things that are you know, texting, or messaging, or
email, we kind of lose that the embodied expression of emotion.
Yeah, in those ways.
So great question.
The so, some of the, the, this is why I said these,
these micro-moments of connection involve this synchrony, or what I,
what's what I'm calling biobehavioral synchrony.
The behavioral part, is the synchrony that you can see.
You know, that people's nonverbal gestures start to match, you know,
someone's talking like this, you might go like this.
[LAUGH] You know, you just kind of, and, and mirror each other in some ways.
Or at least get on the same rhythm or tempo.
Now that's the kind of synchrony that you can see.
There's a the bio part of that synchrony is what we can't see, but
what science is now beginning to reveal, is that when two people are really
connecting in this, you know, shared positive state, they ha,
have increases in neuropeptides like oxytocin, in sync with one another.
They show synchronized neural firings.
You know across whole brain patterns.
So, it's, if a single emotion is rolling across two or
more brains and bodies at once.
And not just living in one person, and then being echoed in another.
It's, it's kind of like,
it really kind of challenges the view that emotion belongs to one person.
You know, it's really, there's a way in which it's, it's rolling across two or
more people at once.
And with the other thing
that I think is very much facilitated by this connection sharing
positive emotions, and the synchrony is a mutual caring orientation.
And this isn't like a heavy handed caring, like caregiving, or having a role, but
more that when you're interacting with someone in this way, and if,
I don't know, if a bookcase fell on their foot, or something, you'd be like, ouch!
Oh, are you okay?
You know, it's that kind of concern.
You know, so that there's a mutual sense of concern back and forth.
So, even when it's you know, parent and child, or even, you know uh, mentor and
student, or there, there's, even in places where it's not an,
necessarily, an equal relationship, there's still that mutual concern,
even, you know, for the, for the one who's on, you know,
the child position, is concerned about the well-being of their parent in that way.
So so, you know, we tend to think of love, as a status, or a bond, or an achievement.
But I think by drilling down to the the momentary parts of it,
we can understand, love becomes a little bit less of a mystery.
Like, I wonder how I get that.
[LAUGH] You know, get more of that in my life.
You can be thinking of all these smaller pieces.
You know, how about more of these tying the shoe together.
[LAUGH] You know, kind of smaller experiences that kind of build up
to create that, you know, kind of embodied sense of the bond.
Rather than just oh, yeah, here's the relationship on paper,
you know the lineage, or how your related, it's, you know, it gives you that,
that sense of we really get each other, you know, kind of builds something.
I want to just walk through a number of different definitions of,
of how psychology has thought of what a smile is for,
because I think it's can be enlightening here.
You know, the early work just showed that talked
about how smiles really are a read out of the inner state of the smiling person.
So, any time you use the word facial expression,
you're kind of subscribing to that logic.
[LAUGH] That, you know, a smile is really just about expressing.
There's another view in psychology that, that kind of challenged that view and
said, well, actually, what smiles really function as,
is ways to draw out positive emotion in another.
So, they're not necessarily just reflecting the smiler's,
their inner state, they're kind of pulling for a similar inner state in another.
And then this work where if, if you mimic someone else's smile,
you come to kind of get a sense of what they're feeling suggests that one
thing that a smile is for, is to create this, we're on the same page.
You know, we're, we have this shared subjective experience.
So, that sharing a smile is a way of kind of coming to feel the same way as
There's another take that has joined up my broaden-and-build theory.
These are other researchers,
join that up with this view that smiles pull for positivity in others.
In saying that, well, you know, smiles and
laughter, they're ways for us to broaden and build together.
I mean, my broaden and build theory was originally, so much about the individual.
And that this kind of broadens it out, and makes it much more social.
So what, one of the things that I'd been arguing.
And I think the research that I'll share with you next week
will really drive this home.
Is that, you know, these micro moments of positivity resonance, are,
are really vital nutrients for health, not just our own health,
but the health of our communities, the health of our bonds and so
what a smile could be serving as, is this initial hook that says, you know,
let's create this moment that's going to be nourishing to, to all of us.
You know? So, there's a way in which a smile is a,
is a bid to get into this more healthful state.
And we'll, we'll talk more about the health piece later.
But I'm just wondering if you guys have any reactions to
these different takes on what's the, what's the adaptive value of a smile?
This is from the sort of an evolutionary psychology perspective.
You know, why do people smile, you know?
Could it, is it just about, you know, one person?
Is it just about the other?
Could it be about, kind of raising collective potential?
>> I think about the business world and, when we teach sales, you know,
you don't know what the client is going to say, how they're going to respond.
So, you always walk in with a smile.
And then that's, I think it hits all of those.
It's a way to show your positivity.
It's a way to see how they're going to respond.
And then also, it can broaden.
>> Because then you can open up and begin the conversation.
So, smiling is very important in sales.
>> Yeah. Yeah.
>> Do you think this works across cultures in terms of,
smiles, and that being, kind of, similar in India and China, and other places?
>> Yeah, well I think there are definitely, you know, cultural norms about
when it's appropriate to smile, when it's appropriate to make eye contact.
I mean, those are, those are things that are very much governed by,
you know kind of cultural beliefs and values.
And yet I think that you know, when people feel safe, and when there's connection.
And so, that's where the safety piece might be, different in different cultures,
like may not be appropriate or safe, to make eye contact and smile.
But when those conditions are, are met, when people safe,
I think the ways that you know,
humans are designed in terms of their reaction to smiles can be very similar.
So, there's, there's certainly,
emotions are a place where there's a lot of cultural variation, and
a lot of kind of universality at play, both at, it's kind of both and.
>> Mm-hm. >> So, great question.
>> I think one thing that I liked about smiles and as it rates,
relates to positivity resonance, is how quick these things can happen, and
how it doesn't require a whole lot of investment on your part.
If you're at the grocery store, and you're, you know, smile and
say thank you to the person who helped you find something.
That brief moment you can, it's, you can really quickly connect with someone,
express positivity, this synchrony, if you share a smile and,
show that you care and care about that person, respect them.
It's, it's so quick it doesn't require a lot of time for
you to kind of experience this shared positivity.
Broaden, you know, your potential to, you know, make a new friend, or
build resources, and you know, kind of improve your day, so.
Yeah. >> Yeah, and now,
one of the things I think is interesting is that it isn't, necessarily even have
to be about building a connection that'll be lasting, because I think those kind of,
everyday smiles that you might share with people in your community,
give you that sense of, feeling like you live in a safe place.
You know, that, to the extent to which people are friendly, and warm, and, and
exchange those, you know, micro-moments of connection.
Even if it's not necessarily going to build anything in terms of a lasting tie,
it does build that lasting abiding sense of, I like where I live.
[LAUGH] You know?
I feel safe here.
I feel like there's a great sense of community.
And tho, those kind of things that can build up.
So, you know, sometimes people will say,
well, you know, I'm never going to see that person again.
What is it, what is that good for me?
[LAUGH] You know, but it's, it's part of what creates that broader community.