The short answer: Yes, because it can affect your emotions as well as theirs. Here are the reasons you should continue smiling behind your mask.
Social contact is important for humans (including introverts)
Bea de Gelder, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, says that, as social creatures, humans weren’t designed to obscure our facial expressions with cloth coverings. “Social contact,” she says, “is as essential to survival as food and drink.” It’s more than the fact that we rely on others to meet our basic needs in both the early and late stages of life, she says. Research shows that social contact improves physical and mental health, increases immunity and reduces stress.
This sense of connection supports our well-being, whether we realize it or not. Michelle “Lani” Shiota, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University, explains: “When we’re smiling and engaging with other people, it’s the engagement with other people that makes us feel better,” adding, “it turns out that that’s even the case if you’re introverted.” She was referring to the work of psychology researcher Luke Smillie, including a 2019 Journal of Experimental Psychology study and a 2017 Emotion study, which found that people — including introverts — tended to experience better moods when acting like extroverts.
Facial expressions are key to social contact
According to Alex Sel, psychology lecturer at the University of Essex, the face is one of, if not the most “important places in the body to look at for social information.”
Shiota says smiling can convey much more than happiness or pleasure. She cites a 2018 PLOS One study that found that living in a geographical area with a high level of ancestral diversity and a history of cultural heterogeneity was a predictor of smiling. According to Shiota, this data suggests we smile to signal that we’re “safe.” Smiles, she says, are “this big kind of obvious way that we say, ‘Not a threat!’ ”
Research also shows that when you smile, you tend to view others’ facial expressions as more positive. Sel performed a study in which subjects were asked to adopt a smile or a neutral expression while rating the happiness level of people in pictures as electrodes measured their brain activity. Her team found that, based on activity in the visual cortex, people were more likely to perceive neutral faces as positive when they themselves were smiling.
Sel says it’s reasonable to extrapolate that if you stop smiling beneath your mask, you might “perceive other people as less cheerful or less happy.”
But don’t fake it till you make it
Although smiling conveys important social cues, it may not affect our emotional state as strongly as the psychology community was led to believe by a widely cited 1988 study.
The two experiments were designed to test the facial feedback theory, which hypothesizes that the act of smiling, regardless of the feeling underneath it, influences our sense of well-being. Subjects were instructed to view cartoons while either holding