By Cara Murez
FRIDAY, Dec. 4, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Could a genuine smile be the key to getting a less-painful vaccination? Researchers from University of California, Irvine, say yes.
That genuine smile, which brings up the corners of the mouth and creates crow's feet around the eyes, can reduce the pain of a needle injection by up to 40%, and also blunt a stressful needle-related physiological response by lowering the heart rate, the researchers said.
Surprisingly, a grimace also created those same responses. A poker face did not.
"When facing distress or pleasure, humans make remarkably similar facial expressions that involve activation of the eye muscles, lifting of the cheeks and baring of the teeth," said researcher Sarah Pressman, a professor of psychological science.
"We found that these movements, as opposed to a neutral expression, are beneficial in reducing discomfort and stress," Pressman said in a university news release.
That's news 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 distress when injected with saline solution using a 25-gauge needle, which is the type typically used with a flu shot.
Participants were asked to express a genuine smile, a fake smile, a grimace or a neutral expression. Those who maintained a smile or a grimace told researchers the shot hurt only about half as much as the neutral group.
"Our study demonstrates a simple, free and clinically meaningful method of making the needle injection less awful," Pressman said. "Given the numerous anxiety- and pain-provoking situations found in medical practice, we hope that an understanding of how and when smiling and grimacing helps will foster 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 has more on COVID-19 vaccine research.
SOURCE: University of California, Irvine, news release, Dec. 1, 2020