Prior to Monday’s 200-meter butterfly semifinals, NBC’s cameras caught Michael Phelps sitting alone in a corner, headphones on, with the meanest of mugs. As soon as Phelps finished the event—securing a spot in the finals, which he’d go on to win a day later—the Internet was awash with the hashtag #PhelpsFace. Wired called #Phelpsface “Rio’s first perfect meme,” and the New York Times proclaimed “Michael Phelps puts his game face on, and what a face it is.” While Phelps later admitted during an interview that his expression was unintentional, could #Phelpsface have influenced Phelps’s gold medal-winning performance?
“Absolutely,” says David Havas, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater whose research specializes in facial feedback, or how our facial expressions influence our psychology and physiology.
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