The recent tragic sinking of the Korean Ferry gives an unfortunate window into a particular nonverbal behavior which few people understand. Covering of the mouth during moments of extreme sadness is not an attempt to prevent people from seeing us becoming emotional or to quiet the sound of our sobs. It is a subconsciously driven body language phenomenon signaling our emotional brain is processing a dramatic event and its ramifications. While the logic and intellect may know what has transpired - the emotional brain is having trouble grasping the events and it's trying to catch up.
This mouth covering often occurs very rapidly. Sometimes other portions of the face (e.g. cheeks or eyes) are also involved - or they are alternatively the primary areas being occluded - however the mouth is much more common.
Those who cover their mouths (or cheeks, eyes, etc.) when hearing and/or seeing dramatic news have significantly higher empathy quotients compared with those who don't display this nonverbal signal.
Blessings and condolences to the families and loved-ones of the victims of this tragedy.
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