Monthly Archives: October 2010

‘Before you put on a frown, make absolutely sure there are no smiles available…’

Watching a Friends episode that you’ve seen a million times but still makes you chuckle (Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!), or coming home from work to discover that your favourite meal has been cooked for tea! (Slow cooked beef and roasties, yum) Most people smile at some point during their day, but do they ever stop to think about the action and the impact it can have on their lives and the lives of those around them?

When meeting new people a smile can have a profound effect on the outcome of the encounter. In his groundbreaking book published in 1937 How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie devoted an entire chapter to the power of a smile. Entitled ‘A Simple Way to Make a Good Impression’, Carnegie describes using the smile to create good, positive first impressions and details a number of anecdotal evidence to support this. He states that individuals who smile more are more likely to be hired from a job interview, manage people more effectively, sell more efficiently and are even more successful in bringing up children. Perhaps the most affecting account is that of William B. Steinhardt, a New York City stockbroker who decided to test the theory and smiled at someone every hour of every day for a week. The result was remarkable in all areas of his life, having been married for 18 years Steinhardt noticed the happiness return to his marriage by simply greeting his wife with a smile at the breakfast table!

Matthew J. Hertenstein et al. (2009) examined whether the intensity of smiles displayed in photographs from childhood and adolescence would predict the likelihood of divorce in later life. In the first study, around 650 adults aged between 21-87 years were asked to provide their final year school photographs. The photographs were coded for smile intensity and the participants were asked questions regarding their romantic relationships to determine whether they had ever been divorced. The researchers found that the less intensely participants smiled, the greater the chance of them becoming divorced in later life. Staggeringly to the extent that those with the weakest smiles were more than 3 times more likely to divorce! The second study aimed to test the theory using photographs from an even younger age, 55 participants aged 59-91 years provided photographs taken between the ages of 5-22 years. The findings of Study 1 were supported even for children as young as 5 years old! Compelling evidence! The researchers believe that individuals who are generally of a happier disposition are more likely to marry equally happy companions and are also more likely to work through difficulties in the relationship.

And if that hasn’t convinced you that you should be smiling more, then this will…

Researchers at Wayne State University in Michigan (Abel & Kruger, 2010) studied the relationship between smile intensity and life expectancy amongst baseball players. The players had all started playing before 1950 for major US teams and their photographs were taken from the 1952 Baseball Register. This also provided the researchers with statistics for birth year, body mass index, marital status and career length. Each player photograph was classified as one of the following: ‘no smile’, ‘partial smile’ using only mouth muscles or ‘full smile’ involving both mouth and eye muscles. Those classifications were then correlated with the age to which they lived. The results revealed a marked correlation between the two; the ‘no smile’ category lived for an average of 72.9 years, ‘partial smile’ 75 years and ‘full smile’ lived until the grand age of 79.9 years!

The Duchenne (D) smile is widely regarded as a spontaneous and genuine expression of happiness or enjoyment, described by its discoverer Duchenne de Boulogne as a smile “put into play by the sweet emotions of the soul . . .” The D smile has been classified using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS)and involves a combination of two facial muscle movements. The zygomaticus major muscle pulls the lip corners up, and the orbicularis oculi, pars lateralis muscle lifts the cheeks and causes the eye socket to wrinkle and produce ‘crow’s feet’. Studies have shown that individuals displaying a D smile are believed to be more emotional, pleasant and in better humour than those displaying a non-Duchenne smile. The D smile also leads to more affiliative responses from the recipient. Krumhuber and Manstead (2009) sought to examine whether there was a difference in the recipient’s rating of a smile depending on whether it was genuine (spontaneous) or fake (deliberate). It was predicted that spontaneous D smiles would be rated as more genuine than deliberate D smiles or spontaneous ND smiles and this was indeed the case. It seems therefore that there is one type of genuine, felt smile: the spontaneous Duchenne smile.

It is surprisingly difficult to differentiate between a genuine smile and a fake smile… Can you tell the difference? Take this test and see! There are 20 short video clips and you have to decide whether the smile displayed is genuine or fake, I did it and somehow scored 17 out of 20 but it was very hard!

If the world were categorised as ‘smilers’ and ‘non-smilers’ I would generally be described as a ‘smiler’. Having researched and written this post I intend to step this up so that I sit firmly in the smiling camp. Try Dale Carnegie’s advice and smile at someone once every hour and see if you notice any differences in your life, preferably not the same person as they may become slightly troubled by this! Watch this clip for some tips, the grin-o-meter, an initiative by a Japanese rail company ensures that all their employees’ smiles appear genuine before they start work! If a smile brightens someone’s day, saves your marriage and lengthens your life where is the harm in trying it!

‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood…’

Who does not feel a suppressed start at the creaking of furniture in the dark of night? Who has not felt a shiver of goose flesh, controlled only by an effort of will? Who, in the dark, has not had the feeling of some thing behind him – and, in spite of his conscious reasoning, turned to look?
The Fascination of the Ghost Story by Arthur B. Reeve 1919


October is upon us, and as is tradition for me I have been hit with the Halloween spirit (excuse the pun). The origin of Halloween lies in Pagan Celtic tradition; the Celts believed that at this time of year the barrier between the living world and the afterlife was at its weakest, enabling the spirits of the dead to roam freely amongst us. Rather than being a morbid time, it was in fact a celebration known as Samhain. Activities that formed the Samhain celebration are not too dissimilar to our 21st Century Halloween customs; adorning the body in costumes made from animal skins and heads, fortune telling, and traditional games of apple bobbing.

This year I’ve foolishly decided that I want my Halloween to scare the living daylights out of me. So… I am going to witness ‘a unique tale of spine chilling terror, an original ghost story performed before a roaring log fire in a real haunted house. Inspired by true paranormal events.’ ‘What Stalks the Night?’ will take place at Croxteth Hall in Liverpool and I am petrified in anticipation.

The 210-room mansion was home to the Earls of Sefton for over 400 years. When the last Earl died in 1972 there was no heir for the estate to be passed down to; it therefore became the property of Liverpool City Council. Spirits are said to haunt Croxteth Hall and various sightings have been recorded; a boy standing by the fireplace in the dining room, a figure of a man in the billiard room, and even the 6th Earl of Sefton walking around the tea room! Smells and footsteps have also been witnessed inside the mansion. In April 2009, CCTV footage of the hall grounds captured a shadowy figure that appears to glide across the screen, take a look at the video and see what you think…

But do ghosts really exist?

Hampton Court Palace in Surrey is said to contain the ghost of Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard, the infamous Haunted Gallery was the scene of her desperate flee to plead to the King for her life before she was executed. The Historic Royal Palaces website describes an incident at the Palace that took place in 1999. During two separate tours of the property, two female visitors fainted in the Gallery on the exact same spot only half an hour apart. The Palace was one of two locations to feature in a psychological study of hauntings (Wiseman et al., 2003), the other being the Edinburgh South Bridge Vaults. Participants in the study were asked to record i) any prior knowledge of hauntings in the location, ii) unusual feelings experienced, and the precise location of these experiences. The researchers found a direct correlation between reporting of unusual experiences and locations that had a strong reputation for being haunted, however contrary to sceptical belief this was not due to participants’ prior knowledge of the haunted areas. However, when environmental factors were analysed it appeared that there was a correlation between factors such as magnetic fields, temperature, lighting and reporting of unusual experiences. The conclusion of the study suggested that unusual experiences in both locations were not due to ghostly goings-on but were in fact caused by environmental factors.

Believers 0 – Non-Believers 1. Don’t cancel your Halloween plans just yet though…

Christopher French, head of Goldsmith’s Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit tested the theory that environmental factors were the sole cause of haunting experiences (French et al. 2009). The team built a scientifically haunted room in a London row house, 9 feet in diameter and inside which infrasound waves were cast similar to those recorded in the allegedly haunted Coventry Castle. Sound waves producing electromagnetic frequency associated with paranormal feeling were also emitted into the haunted room. 79 participants were tested. After spending less than 1 hour in the room participants reported the following; dizziness, tingling, disembodiment, dream-remembrance and “a presence.” However, these sensations were not correlated with the manipulated infrasound and EMF and instead appeared to arise from suggestibility. French concluded that ‘the case for infrasound inducing haunt-type experiences now appears to be extremely weak.’

The definition according to the Cambridge Dictionary of American English:
ghost: (noun) the spirit of a dead person imagined as visiting the living and usually appearing as a pale, almost transparent form of the dead person. Research published in 2009 by the Public Theology Think Tank (Theos) revealed that almost four in 10 (39%) people in the UK believe in ghosts. Perhaps subconsciously we believe in ghosts because it reassures us that there is life after death? There is something comforting in the belief that we cannot explain everything, if ghosts exist our existential fear is slightly abated.

If the Celts were correct in their Samhain beliefs then the veils between our world and the spirit world are due to almost disappear in exactly 19 days. The possibility of a ghostly encounter could be greatly increased… you may wish to prepare your home to ward off those evil spirits!

Halloween events around the country I recommend:

Halloween Themed Dining at Warwick Castle and tours
http://www.warwick-castle.co.uk/events/themed-dining/halloween-evening-events.aspx

Halloween Party at the UK’s only horror themed restaurant and club http://www.thehellfire.co.uk/events/2010-10-31/Halloween.html

Various events in and around London including a talk by Professor Chris French http://www.londonparanormal.com/lgf.htm

Vintage Halloween Party at Edinburgh’s best venue
http://oxjam.weebly.com/

Ghosthunting including overnight hunts!
http://www.hauntedhappenings.co.uk/

Liverpool Ghost Tours
http://www.shiverpool.co.uk/

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Welcome to my blog, I’m currently researching my first post which has a spooky theme in honour of Halloween! Should be complete in the next couple of days…

Thanks for visiting, Lynsey x

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