How taking masks off will affect our social skills

Can we still smile?

Michael Zibell, Staff Writer

We are very social creatures. One major way we communicate our feelings, emotions and all sorts of other messages to each other is with our facial expressions. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two years, you know that we have had half our face covered by a piece of fabric. This is an obvious issue when it comes to facial expressions. How will taking the masks off affect our social skills? Will we be able to hide the look of disgust or jealousy? What about smiling?

These are the questions we all have. 

I have felt little hesitation when cracking a smile. Despite my social clarity, I can see others clearly nervous, uneasy or just down right scared of social situations. Is this because the masks are gone?

I believe that’s the case.

At first wearing a mask was weird and irritating; however, after two years of face covering oddity it has become the social “normal” to wear a mask. It has become second nature to wake up and throw a mask on before leaving the house. This in turn has numbed our natural facial expression control. Pre-COVID it was natural to hide a smile or smirk in an awkward situation, but with the introduction to masks we felt free to smile or cringe without the fear of social expectation.

I decided to see how taking the masks off has affected people in the real world. Who better to ask than my own mother, someone who goes into an office for her occupation.  She said “When I first started working at my job we had masks on, so the first day we took them off I was a little nervous because I had never seen any of these people without a mask before.” 

When asked, my father had a different approach. My father is a heavy equipment operator and is isolated inside his machine all day long with no physical contact with others. “In my job we haven’t had to wear masks at all throughout the entire pandemic because we all work alone inside our machines, so for me the mask mandate being lifted has really no importance to me.”

For some people, the pandemic has really put a damper on their social skills. For others little effect has been noticed. From my own personal experience I would say the first day back at school without masks seemed very normal and casual; however, during the times we had to wear masks I was what you would call a “mask dropper.” It was not an uncommon thing to see me with my mask dropped well below my chin level. This could be why the return to normality was very seamless for me.

As far as the real world goes some people have drastically been affected by the mask removal and others, it’s not even a thought in their mind. This raises the question–is there a psychological change that happened while wearing masks? An article published by the U.S national library of medicine and national institute of health says, “Facial expressions and gestures play a major role in facilitating interpersonal communication, comprehension, and the delivery of intended messages. As such, wearing face masks hindered the ability of seeing and understanding people’s expressions during conversations, and decreased the impact of communicated material.”

While wearing masks we were numbed to facial expressions, therefore, with masks newly removed it will take a little practice to perfect the way we convey ourselves through facial expression.