Yet again an observation from the Seed article – Genevieve Wanucha’s “Emotion’s Alchemy”. (here)
Psychologist Paul Ekman found that voluntary smiles and grimaces produce changes in the autonomic nervous system. His study participants actually began to feel happy or sad or angry after following instructions to set their facial muscles in certain positions. “Psychologically unmotivated and ‘acted’ emotional expressions have the power to cause feeling,” Damasio writes. Enter the actress.
Sheila Donio first attempted to cry onstage as the character “Rizzo” in a stage production of Grease in 2001. She has acted since childhood and settled into professional acting career as a teenager in São Paulo, Brazil. “As I knew I wanted to cry on a specific scene,” she explained, “I started to work on Rizzo’s emotions at home, listening to the song used right before my crying scene. Studying Rizzo’s emotions with that specific soundtrack made my brain connect one thing with the other.” Method acting, techniques devised in the 1930s by Constantin Stanislavski, and later adapted by director Lee Strasberg, emphasize this use of sense memory. Students of this method learn to use personal memories of sensory details to trigger authentic physiological reactions.
Teaching herself, Sheila used this process to tap into the pathways of her brain responsible for the generation of crying. Crying on command became second nature. “Every time I heard that song, I would start to feel her anxieties and frustrations and the buttons for crying would show up in my body, ready to be pressed.” In fact, Sheila’s method of manipulating her body’s physiology is a living demonstration of Damasio’s theory of emotion.
…. “I study how my body reacts when I am crying for real, in real life. It’s all about breathing, for me. I get myself on the highway that leads me to cry. When I do improv theatre, this is how I find my emotions in 30 seconds,” she said. As Sheila adjusts her inhalations and exhalations, her somatosensory cortex detects the body map for crying. Genuine sadness follows the tears. The tears amplify the feelings, triggering sharper emotion, creating a positive feedback loop. What Sheila describes as a “highway,” Damasio thinks of more as a two-way traffic rotary.