Digital mood modifiers

Apparently botox helps you feel better. I’m researching mood, so I’ve skimmed through a recent book called The Face of Emotion: How Botox Affects Our Moods and Relationships, in which the author says, “If you smile broadly, at that moment you will feel happier. You need your smile to help you ‘feel’ the emotion.”

Woman with beret holding iPad at eye level and facing camera

Conversely, frowning has a negative effect on how you see the world around you. So  using botox, which apparently prevents you from scowling, can make you feel good, which is ultimately good for your health.

This reminds me of an experiment I read about in which human participants were required to slouch for several minutes prior to solving certain puzzles. It turned out that slouchers were then less likely to persevere with the puzzles. Participants required to sit with chests raised and heads up seemed more motivated to complete the puzzles, even though sitting up straight for long periods of time induces fatigue. So the comportment of the body has some influence on motivation, competence, mood and wellbeing.

So perhaps smartphones, tablet computers and other digital devices have an effect on our moods by virtue of the facial expressions and postures they require us to adopt when we are using them. Sitting for long periods of time, concentrating and with your head down, glowering at an iPhone or Kindle screen may put you in a bad mood, whatever you are looking at.

Mood organs

I think there’s a lot of interest in the mood effects of digital devices. In the science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick introduces the idea of a “mood organ,” from which the user can select “a creative and fresh attitude” towards their job, or even “ecstatic sexual bliss.” It’s not clear how the device would work.

Outside of science fiction, there exist ordinary mood modifiers such as television sets, radios, personal stereos, game consoles, and home entertainment centres, and of course smartphone and tablet computer that deliver similar content while on the move.

There are  other devices that claim to affect mood, e.g. those that monitor the moods of their users through specialized journal and questionnaire monitoring protocols, such as daily self-reporting on mood. There are apps that turn smartphones into mood organs. Some apps provide logs for entering mood information according to a scale: mood intensity, sleep quality, the amount of exercise, medication, conflicts encountered, and so on. The information is then monitored by a clinician. A range of such apps exists for people with bipolar disorder, such as Bipolar BearMood Tracker, and Optimism.

There’s also a mood ring bracelet, e-cigarettes and various other specialised devices that claim to affect mood. See Wired and DigitalTrends.

So digital devices are bound to affect the mood you are in. Look past the content of your iPad and check out your reflection. If you are stooped and frowning then try pushing back your shoulders and affecting a grin. It might just change your mood for the better … or at least ensure that others give you a wide birth.

I’m interested to hear of other ways that digital devices affect the mood you are in, whether sensible or just as far fetched.

Packet is open showing fake filter tips. Brand is Smoko.


  • Finzi, Eric. 2013. The Face of Emotion: How Botox Affects Our Moods and Relationships. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Riskind, John H., and Carolyn C. Gotay. 1982. Physical posture: Could it have regulatory or feedback effects on motivation and emotion? Motivation and Emotion, (6) 3, 273-298.


Also see Mood machines, Are you aware of your brain, and Emotion.


  1. Dave Thomas says:

    Ray Tallis’s discussion of Intentionality (pg 103-11 ‘Aping Mankind’), may be somewhat relevant

    1. Thanks Dave. I’ll look it up.

  2. Neil Thin says:

    Also on botox and facial feedback:

    Alam M, Barrett KC, Hodapp RM, Arndt KA (2008) ‘Botulinum toxin and the facial feedback hypothesis: can looking better make you feel happier?’ Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 58(6):1061-1072

    Worth seeing this nice review of over 100 years of speculation and research on the facial feedback hypothesis:

    McIntosh, Daniel N. (1996) ‘Facial feedback hypotheses: Evidence, implications, and directions.’ Motivation and Emotion 20,2:121-147

    Some individual studies are intriguing, e.g. on pencil in the mouth:

    Strack, F., Martin, L., & Stepper, S. (1988) ‘Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: A nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis.’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 768–777

    … and on the effects of pillows on our nighttime and morning moods:

    Sigall, Harold, and Mark Johnson 2006 ‘The relationship between facial contact with a pillow and mood.’ Journal of Applied Social Psychology 36, 2:505–526

  3. Brilliant. Thanks Neil. Just what I need. … and a new pencil.

  4. There’s some amusing and subtle commentary on the effects of cosmetic surgery in the film Behind the Candelabra about Liberace etc. Guardian Review.

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