WHILE at Mass this past Christmas Eve, a baby and his family were sitting two pews in front of me (the pew between us was blocked off as per social distancing regulations).
Every so often, I would smile at the baby in hopes of getting a smile back in return, but I wasn’t having much luck.
Then it dawned on me: Along with the distancing regulations, there was also the mask mandate. Not only was my mask blocking all my germs from polluting the air, it was also preventing the baby from seeing my smile.
Being someone who loves to smile at a baby and get a smile in return (it’s difficult to think of something sweeter), I’ve been wondering if the mask mandate would have an effect on a baby’s development. After recently learning about the Still Face Experiment, I got my answer.
Developed by the American psychology professor Dr Ed Tronick in the early 1970s, the Still Face Experiment provides insight into how parents’ facial expressions and reactions affect a baby’s emotional development.
The way the experiment works is the baby and a parent sit facing each other with the parent smiling and talking to the child. Then the parent turns away momentarily and returns wearing a ‘still face’ and not responding to the baby for about two minutes.
At first, the baby is confused by his parent’s lack of responsiveness. Then he becomes distressed and frustrated, and finally the baby starts crying and screeching. After this section of the experiment concludes, the parent starts responding to the baby, who once again starts smiling and is happy.
You can watch the video here.
The experiment shows how important parental attention is to a baby’s healthy development. Researchers have concluded that when parents are not responsive to their child’s needs, these children end up having trouble relating to, and trusting, other people. These issues can last for many years, and in some cases, well into adulthood.
Of course, I know parents’ masks come off at home during the current pandemic (at least, I hope they do) and babies will get all the facial expressions needed for a healthy development.
But that’s only at home; what about interactions with people in public? Based on the findings from the Still Face Experiment, I think it’s a safe assumption that the mask mandate may be creating a generation of citizens who will have trouble relating to, and trusting everyone, outside the home.
So next time you see a baby outside in public, think about whether you should be wearing a mask at all, especially given the debate about their efficacy.
Then do the baby a favour and let him or her see your smile. It’ll do the tiny one a power of good. And make the world the baby is confronted with a less frightening and unfathomable place.