Face-taping for risk-takers [new study]

Does the anticipation of medical treatments, financial investments and leisure time activities sometimes make you anxious? Have you thought about taping your face up? A new research project from the Niedenthal Emotions Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, investigated whether the nervous anticipation of a balloon-popping task and a jack-in-the-box spring* might to some extent be mitigated by the application of inflexible medical tape attached to the forehead to disrupt movement of the brow. (The participants also wore a mouth guard that interfered with actions involving the mouth.)

“The link that has been established between facial expression and emotional responding is sufficient to suggest that feelings of fear and anxiety are useful in determining the extent of risk to be accepted in a decision task. Given that fear and anxiety provide information about whether to accept or reject risk, the disruption of facial expressions of those feelings should promote greater risk taking than would be present in the absence of such disruption. Thus, the goal of the present research was to test the hypothesis that disrupting facial expressions associated with fear and anxiety leads to increases in risk-taking behavior.”

The findings – the reduction in nervous anticipation was associated with more risk-taking :

“The present findings across two studies demonstrate that restricting facial actions, and particularly brow and mouth actions associated with the anxiety or fear expression, leads to greater risk taking on two tasks in which action-related emotions are elicited. We conclude that facial expressions of emotions signal to the decision-maker that a risk should be avoided. When these facial responses are disrupted, however, the decision-maker feels freer to take the risk. Importantly, there was no effect on a decision task that did not require that the participant perform risk behaviors associated with action-related emotions.”

See: Carpenter, S. M., & Niedenthal, P. M. (2019). Disrupting facial action increases risk taking. Emotion. (Advance online publication). A full copy of which may be found here.

* Note re. the jack-in-the-box task: “ [..] being a children’s toy and not a controlled experimental task, [it] sometimes malfunctioned during the experiment (e.g., the lever would stick, the box would not close properly, etc.). Such malfunctions led to the loss of some data during the experiment and to somewhat weaker results.“

Research research by Martin Gardiner