New research suggests that wearing face masks could be affecting the way we interact with others

New research suggests that wearing face masks could be affecting the way we interact with others

A new study led by Cardiff University, published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience , suggests that people with facial paralysis, people who see other people wearing face masks, or even children sucking on pacifiers, might have difficulty showing empathy or detecting positive social cues .

Neural mirror effect

People tend to automatically mimic the facial expressions of emotion of others when they look at them, be it a smile, a frown, or a grimace. This facial imitation , where the brain recreates and reflects the emotional experience of the other person, affects the way we identify with others and interact socially.

This study therefore suggests that when lower face movements are interrupted or hidden, this can be problematic, particularly for positive social interactions and the ability to share emotions .

For the study, the researchers recorded the brain activity of 38 people through an EEG while watching videos of expressions of fear, happiness and anger, as well as a collection of inanimate everyday objects, as a control.

Study participants were asked to watch the videos while holding a pen between their teeth for half of the videos and without the pen for the remaining videos.

The researchers were investigating, for the first time, the effect this had on a process known as a neural mirror : activity in the motor system for our own actions that is also active in observing the actions of others. Neural duplication facilitates simple tasks like hand-eye coordination and more complex tasks like understanding the emotions of others.

The results revealed that participants who could freely move their face showed a significant neural reflex when looking at emotional expressions, but not everyday objects. While holding the pen between their teeth, no neural reflex was observed when looking at happy and angry expressions, but a neural reflex was observed when looking at expressions of fear .

All this confirms to what extent the image we have of ourselves, as well as what we consider that we should feel, are conditioned by others. Because what matters most to us is the reflection of ourselves, not in a mirror, but in the eyes of others , as you can see in the following video about gordofobia and the need to fit in with the group: