Now that everyone is wearing masks, we have to understand that we lose a major portion of the entire communication package when interacting with each other. This is significant considering that 65-95% of messages are communicated nonverbally. However despite this loss, it is still possible to pick up cues in the face, which we covered in a past blog. But are there particular expressions you can’t see when people are wearing masks? The answer is yes.
There are many different types of happiness including elation, euphoria, excitement, and amusement. However, research has shown that these enjoyable emotions are all expressed on the face the same way: by the Duchenne Smile.
A Duchenne Smile occurs when the lip corners move up and the muscle around the eyes moves as well. Oftentimes you see wrinkles around a person’s eyes. This is often described as a “twinkling” or “sparkling” in the eyes. This smile is a true indicator of enjoyment and because the muscles around the eye are activated, it is possible to see this expression even when someone is wearing a mask.
But what about other smiles?
In addition to the Duchenne smile, humans also display what Dr. Matsumoto calls a “social smile”. This smile involves the pulling up of the lip corners, but the muscle around the eye generally does not activate.
Below you can see examples of a true smile (left) and a social smile (right).
Unfortunately because the muscle around the eyes are generally not activated, one is generally unable to see these social smiles that are important in everyday life and culture.
Even though social smiles are not emotional expressions, they serve an important purpose in all of our daily interactions and communications. Social smiles serve several different purposes including:
Serving as a note of politeness or courtesy or greeting
Things like social smiles are incredibly important techniques that we use to grease the wheels of society and bind people together. Since are unable to see social smiles, those wheels are not greased and it may make passing a stranger a little bit rougher. Although the effort to try and be pleasant is not an emotional signal, for social affordances, it’s an incredibly important expression. The social smile has a lot of social and cultural meaning that we consciously and unconsciously attribute.
Telling you something about the person who is smiling
When a person smiles at you, they are showing you they’re more sociable, more outgoing, and approachable at that time. These social smiles give insight into their personality and intentions for that interaction at that time.
Commenting on things that we say or other emotions that we show
If you deliver a harsh comment with a smiles on your face, it’s perceived differently than if you said the same thing with an angry expression. Social smiles comment on things we say and without them, words could be misconstrued to be interpreted differently than what we intended.
It’s clear that social smiles are important for every day interaction. Without the ability to see them, we may have to take some extra steps to compensate.
Here are some helpful tips we suggest when passing a stranger when wearing a mask:
- Nod when you see someone
- Wave “hello”
- Saying “hi” in a pleasant voice
Please weigh in on the comments if you can think of any more!