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Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation

Beyond the medical impacts of COVID-19, it has been difficult for some people to navigate a masked world where half the face is obscured. It is becoming more and more apparent how important facial cues such as smiles are in helping people to connect to others emotionally.

So, how does one deliver a smile in the world of COVID-19? We are learning to focus more on our eyes. If you are smiling behind your mask, it will reflect in your eyes. However, the face isn’t the only manner in which we express emotions. Now more than ever we need to be attentive to words, voices and body language to help message to those around us.

In the late 1960s, a psychologist named Albert Mehrabian co-authored two studies focused on how people communicate emotions. He suggests three criteria need to be present to effectively communicate feelings or emotions. These include words, vocal tone, and body language. Mehrabian concluded that only seven percent of communication is related to the actual meaning of a given word. Thirty-eight pewrcent relates to the tone of voice, and 55 percent is body language, primarily facial.



While communicating with a mask on is something most people in the United States are trying to adapt to, face coverings and masks are more common in other countries. Samar Al Zayer, a psychologist working in Europe and originally from Saudi Arabia shares that it is important for the mask wearer to be thoughtful about things like keeping good eye contact, focusing of your tone of voice, and using hand gestures more than you might normally.

While it doesn’t feel natural, she suggests over-communicating by using more words than you normally would and asking more questions to show interest. In addition, be attentive of your other senses and conscious on what your body language may be suggesting.



Many refer to the smile behind the mask as the Duchenne smile although some know it as “smize” which is shorthand for smiling with your eyes. While conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions in the 19th century, Guillaume Duchenne a French neurologist researched the smile. A Duchenne smile involves the contraction of the zygomatic muscle which raises the corners of the mouth, and the orbicularis oculi muscle raises the cheeks and forms crow’s feet.

Researchers who study the effects of human smiles believe the Duchenne smile is among the most influential of human expressions. While an ordinary smile is bound to the mouth, the Duchenne goes beyond incorporating other parts of the face to great effect. While a broad smile often translates to the eyes, your eyes are also a very powerful and effective courier of other emotions. During these times, mastering the emotive power of the eyes is a valuable skill.

In today’s mask wearing world, the eyes clearly dominate emotional communication. While our eyes give us the purpose of sight, we now understand their importance for interpersonal insight.


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