I recently read an article by neuroscientist, Dr Dean Barnett (author of The Happy Brain) which explored how masks affect human interaction.
We all know how important facial expression is when we communicate. Until recently we would generally have associated wearing masks with suspicion or situations which might suggest risk or danger. TV portrayals of violent criminals often show them masked and medical professionals, who we would already associate with masks, might be doing things to us that we don’t like!
So Dr Burnett suggests that part of our brain is now constantly focused on people wearing masks and this can make us more wary and anxious. Because of this, we can be less engaged and slower to respond to what’s going on around us. The opposite might also be the case, however. Wearing a mask might suggest things are under control and give you a false sense of protection. Studies into bike helmets seem to suggest that people wearing them often take more risks.
When it comes to communication, masks really obscure facial expression, even though the eyes are visible, which causes problems for both the speaker and the receiver. Some people might become less inhibited as the mask makes them feel more anonymous. Studies into facial paralysis show that others tend to perceive the lack of expressions in a negative way. We can become more unsure and suspicious. The same studies reveal that those with facial paralysis tend to compensate by exaggerating vocal movement and body language.
Emotions can be conveyed by bigger arm movements and more emphatic stress on the keywords. Interestingly, this does indeed increase positivity in the listener. So perhaps we will find ourselves displaying our feelings more with the body, which will certainly be unusual for the usually reserved British!
So, to sum up, as a species, humans are very interactive and it will probably take more than a virus and masks to stop us communicating. How we overcome these problems, though, remains to be seen.
Don’t forget to contact me if you notice your communicating style changing. These are strange days but, whatever the challenge, don’t remember to:
Speak Loud & Clear!
Phone: 0800 083 4082