By Paige Zuckerman, Clinical Director
It’s a fairly well known fact that in most of the US things are ‘reopening’ as COVID vaccination numbers steadily increase and CDC guidelines expand. Maybe you’ve already reinvigorated your world, and it’s unfolding into the next phase of a ‘sort-of post-pandemic’ life.
One of my beloved local coffee shops-the one that my week starts with on Monday mornings and ends with much the same on Fridays-sloughed off their masks last week after diligent safety standards for almost a year and a half. I was taken aback by the extent of thrill I experienced in seeing the full facial expressions of my familiar favorite baristas, as though I was discovering their fuller self for the first time. That sense got me thinking; just exactly how has our internal computation been affected by the missing half of the faces of people we love and respect this past long year?
What Does the Science Say?
The science bears out evidence that the specific wiring in our brain that recognizes and reflects expression is implicated in our social schematic. Mirror neurons, the little tangles of electrical recognition in our brains, allow us to-as they might connote-reflect on what we experience. Social cognition appears to be innately tied to our ability to observe and make sense of the expressions of others.
So what happens when you lose half of the information for an extended period of time? How might our wonderful little mirror neurons been pruned or partially deactivated due to the loss of data? Have they had to grow to work even harder to complete the missing patterns on masked faces all around us? It’s a bit early to know…and it merits a tremendous scientific effort and curiosity.
Keep an Open Mind
For now, what I am allowing myself to be curious for are the ways I will be surprised, thrilled, confused and maybe even incorrect as I attempt to re-integrate the full, expressive and wonderful faces of the people in my life. How might I use that interesting experience to enliven my gratitude, my attentiveness, my compassion and my own reflection with people moving forward? What might it mean for you?