public health

Analyzing the effects of mask-wearing and social distancing on brain development in children

Throughout Homo sapiens’ rich history, our species has evolved to become deeply social animals. For instance, the first hunter-gatherers lived in bands, allowing their members to depend on each other for food and resources. Similarly, our most basic unit of community—the family—reflects our ability to develop deep relationships that often last us a lifetime. The unique social aspect of the human species has become so intrinsic to us that it’s even embedded in our biology; for example, during a child’s developmental years, their brains process social cues (e.g. facial expressions, reactions, and speech) to create complex neural circuits governing how they interact with others for the rest of their lives.

However, over the past few months, COVID-19 has greatly limited our ability to have social interactions. As experts believe this pandemic will last several years, mask-wearing will become a common ritual in our day-to-day lives, making most of the faces we see partially hidden. In addition, our in-person interactions will drastically decrease as we move to technology platforms. Could this affect the way our children interact with and treat each other?