By Cara Murez
FRIDAY, December 4, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Could a genuine smile be the key to a less painful vaccination? Researchers from the University of California, Irvine say yes.
That heartfelt smile, which brings out the corners of the mouth and causes crow’s feet around the eyes, can reduce pain from a needle injection by as much as 40% and also tone down a stressful needle-related physiological response by lowering the heart rate, the researchers said.
Surprisingly, a grimace also triggered the same reactions. A poker face didn’t work.
“When people are confronted with suffering or pleasure, they make remarkably similar facial expressions that activate the eye muscles, lift the cheeks and expose the teeth,” says researcher Sarah Pressman, a professor of psychological science.
“We found that these movements, unlike a neutral expression, are beneficial in reducing discomfort and stress,” Pressman said in a university press release.
That’s news that people may be able to use right away as the rollout of a two-part COVID-19 vaccine begins this winter.
The study included 231 people who reported their levels of pain, emotion, and anxiety when injected with saline using a 25 gauge needle, the type most commonly used in a flu shot.
Participants were asked to express a genuine smile, a fake smile, a grimace, or a neutral expression. Those who kept smiling or grimacing told the researchers that the shot hurt only half as much as the neutral group.
“Our study demonstrates a simple, free, and clinically meaningful method to make needle injection less terrible,” said Pressman. “Given the numerous anxiety and pain-inducing situations encountered in medical practice, we hope that an understanding of how and when smiling and grimacing helps promote effective pain reduction strategies that result in better patient experiences.”
The findings were published online in the journal Emotion.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have more information on COVID-19 vaccine research.
SOURCE: University of California, Irvine, press release, December 1, 2020