Facial expressions are important for social interaction and many are universal, enabling people to distinguish the difference between a polite smile, for example, and a real one. Understanding how the brain interprets others’ expressions is important in understanding how social interactions work. But for those who suffer from Moebius syndrome, a rare condition that causes facial paralysis, these interactions can be difficult as they have difficulty mimicking expressions conveyed by others to show sympathy or understanding. In a new study which is the largest yet on this condition, the New York Times reports, experts found that people with the disorder had no trouble recognizing anyone else’s expressions: they did just as well in identifying emotions displayed in photographs of people, even though they couldn’t mimic them. This suggests the brain has other ways to recognize facial expressions, and that people with the condition learn to use them. It these strategies are teachable, experts hope they could help others with social awkwardness due to anxiety, problems like autism, or paralysis due to causes like Bell’s palsy. Moebius syndrome has no known cause, and affects less than one in 100,000 children at birth.
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