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Masks leave us “only with the eyes”

COVID-19 has changed how we see one another. Most Americans are now wearing masks when they leave their homes and, in lots of cases, workers are required to wear one.

Not only does it change the way we look at our own faces, it changes how we interact with — how we see — the faces of others.

When people wear masks, other humans can’t make the snap judgments they normally make while looking at other people, said Leslie Zebrowitz, a psychology professor who spoke to the Washington Post about mask wearing. “You’re left really only with the eyes,” she said.

Dr. Brandon Menke

A study in the 1960s at the University of California researched how humans use things like spoken words, posture and facial expressions to communicate with each other. It turned out that a huge percentage of our communication with one another is non-verbal. Take away a big part of the face, particularly the mouth, and those non-verbal communications become much harder to read.

Right now, masks are key for our safety. But they make communication challenging. In many cases, the loss of some facial expressions centered on the mouth won’t be a huge deal. But in some cases — for example, when you smile at a neighbor or a service worker — that smile doesn’t reach your eyes.

“You’re losing something that conveys you are friendly and polite,” one researcher said.

The ilumin doctors have a practice round for you: Check out each doctor’s eyes in the images throughout this post and see if you can “read” how they’re feeling in each photo. Surprised? Annoyed? Happy? Mad?

<>In the meantime, here’s some tips to make interacting with a mask a little bit easier.

Use your eyes

Dr. Camilla Parson

One simple solution for most people might be to use more gestures involving your eyes and eyebrows. Take care to look at the person you’re speaking with, and be aware that you might not be able to read their face in the subtle ways you normally would.

Adjust your body 

Make sure you’re sending a message of kindness. Relax your shoulders, and try not to cross your arms. Keep your hands off your hips, and nod when you can so the person knows you’re listening.

Wear a fun mask

Dr. Michael Goldstein

Remember social distancing

Dr. Michael Goldstein

Maintain your distance from the person you’re interacting with. And make sure, when possible, physical barriers that might make your voice hard to hear are removed from the conversation.

We are welcoming patients into both ilumin offices safely. If you have concerns about your vision, give us a call. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to see the masked doctors in person! See you soon.