Is it useful to smile at strangers when you wear a mask that hides half of your face? The answer is yes. According to several specialists, smiling, even if we are masked, would have a positive effect on our well-being and that of others.
Bea de Gelder, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Maastricht University, explains that it is not natural for human beings to cover up their facial expressions with a mask. “Social contact is as essential for survival as eating and drinking,” she says. It improves our mental and physical health, our immunity and reduces our stress.
For Michelle “Lani” Shiota, professor of psychology at Arizona State University, “when you smile and come into contact with other people, it is the connection with the other that makes us feel better ”. Drawing on the research work of psychologist Luke Smillie, she recalls that even the most introverted individuals are usually in a better mood by giving a simple smile to a stranger.
To establish social contact, facial expressions are essential. According to Michelle “Lani” Shiota, a smile, for example, is a signal that you are safe. In addition, a study conducted by Alex Sel, senior lecturer at the University of Essex, shows that an individual who smiles tends to apprehend the facial expressions of those around him in a more positive way. Therefore, by stopping smiling behind his mask, we risk perceiving others as less happy.
Although smiling can communicate social indicators, this action could nevertheless affect our emotional state in a less dramatic way than what a 1988 study, often cited by psychologists, suggested. This affirmed that a smile, even forced, acted directly on our well-being. However, according to a study carried out in 2019, the direct impact of our facial reactions on our mood, if it is significant, would however remain limited.
For Michelle “Lani” Shiota, you still have to keep smiling behind her mask. By smiling at someone, we recognize their humanity, explains the psychologist. Even if the other does not see the smile that is addressed to him, he perceives it through the gaze of his transmitter or of his transmitter who also smiles with his eyes. In fact, for Gillian Sandstrom, professor of psychology at the University of Essex, eye contact is essential to establish a social bond with a person, whether accompanied by a smile or not.