What’s a smile worth in a masked world?

It’s true-  a smile engages a person, it’s a social lubricant that can make daily interactions more pleasant, can signal a friend or appreciation of a joke.  With our typical Covid19 masks now covering our mouths and noses, how does this work?


Health care workers (HCWs) were acutely aware of the ‘dehumanizing’ effect of masks + goggles + face shields.  Savvy HCWs pasted large photos of their own smiling faces on their gowns, to rebuild that human connection with their patients.  

"health care workers in protective gear with smilies selfies taped on gowns"

Photo credit: @derekdevault

From American Hospital Association (https://www.aha.org/other-resources/2020-04-20-health-care-workers-ppe-wear-photos-themselves-smiling-comfort-patients) accessed 11 June 2020.


Others choose masks with permanent smiles:

https://www.shopdarkesthour.com/products/smiley-face-preventative-face-mask

But most of us are probably not going to adopt either of these trends.  So how DO we connect when wearing a mask?  How do you know if your friend or the server/sales associate/cashier is scowling behind that mask or actually being friendly?


It turns out, it’s the eyes.  We all know how a warm genuine smile is seen in the eyes also- or, more accurately, the skin movement around the eyes.  Those sometimes-hated wrinkles known as ‘crow’s feet’ can also be called ‘laugh lines’, since ‘squinching’ of this area occurs with a smile or a laugh.  


Photo by Kate Kozyrka on Unsplash


In fact, muscle movement (and wrinkles) around the eyes are know to distinguish between real and polite smiles. (Ekman P, Friesen WV, O’Sullivan M, Smiles When Lying.  J Pers Soc Psychol 1988; 54(3):414-420.)  It is easy for most of us to voluntarily move the corners of our mouths upward into smiles- but it is much harder to on-purpose make smiley-wrinkles around the eyes.


So there you have it.  The eyes don’t lie, even though (as Motown said) smiles sometimes do! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oLl8NLtels


Keep wearing masks, smiling, and spreading kindness. 


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