Masks can be a bit disconcerting, not because they are reminders that we’re experiencing a pandemic, but because they hide human emotion . While at the store, a friend noticed people weren’t making much eye contact, and when they did, they seemed a bit… ‘blank’. One grocery store worker, however, stood out to her that day. She asked him about strawberries. Though a mask was covering the lower half of his face, when he responded to her, she could tell his face was broadly smiling. It was in his eyes. That smile made her day.

Human beings communicate so much through the face. We look to others for cues on how we should be feeling. Others’ expressions can influence our emotions. This is especially true for children. When a child sees their parent’s face relaxed and content, that’s a cue the situation is safe. When a child sees their parent’s face fearful, that’s a cue to also be scared.

A smile from another human, has the power to make us feel safe and connected, which promotes our sense of self-regulation and well-being. We connect through our facial expressions. But how do we connect when our faces are covered?

It's all in the eyes . French anatomist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne de Boulogne discovered this in 1862; a century later, psychologist Paul Ekman dubbed genuine smiles ‘Duchenne smiles.’ How do you form a Duchenne smile? It is characterized not only by the corners of your lips turning up, but also by ‘crinkling of the eyes.’

The next time you’re wearing a mask and you want to add a little positivity to your environment, focus on your eyes. Brief eye contact and a Duchenne smile could help someone feel more connected in this very unusual time.