While masks are essential in preventing the risk of Covid-19 infections, they can also adversely affect our ability to interact socially and share the emotions of others, new research suggests.
The study, led by researchers at Cardiff University, found that people with facial paralysis, people seeing other people wearing face masks or even children sucking on mannequins might have a hard time. to show empathy or to detect positive social signals.
“People tend to automatically mimic other people’s facial expressions when they look at them, whether it’s a smile, a frown, or a smirk. This facial mimicry – where the brain recreates and reflects the emotional experience of the other person – affects the way we sympathize with others and interact socially, ”said lead author Dr Ross Vanderwert of the School. of Psychology from Cardiff University.
“Our study suggests that when lower facial movements are disturbed or masked, this can be problematic, especially for positive social interactions and the ability to share emotions.
“Wearing a face mask continues to be vital in protecting ourselves and others during the Covid-19 pandemic, but our research suggests that it may have important implications for the way we communicate and interact,” a added Vanderwert.
For the study, published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, the team recorded the brain activity of 38 people via an EEG as they watched videos of expressions of fear, joy and anger. , as well as a collection of inanimate everyday objects. , as a control.
Participants were asked to watch the videos with a pen between their teeth for half of the videos and without a pen for the remaining videos.
Researchers were studying, for the first time, the effect this had on a process known as neural mirror activity in the motor system for our own actions which is also active by observing the actions of others. Neural mirroring facilitates simple tasks such as hand-eye coordination and more complex tasks such as understanding the emotions of others.
The results revealed that participants who were able to freely move their faces exhibited an important neural mirror when they observed emotional expressions, but not everyday objects.
While the pen was held between their teeth, no neural mirror was observed looking at the happy and angry expressions, but it did show a neural mirror when looking at the fearful expressions.