This image above (and close-up below) shows one of the firefighters from yesterday's Grenfell Tower Fire in North Kensington, West London, England. At the time of this writing, the tragedy has claimed at least twelve lives while seventy-seven people have been injured - twenty critically.
Touching one's face during or after sudden or dramatic news/experiences - is a signal of emotional processing. Said another way, this is a manifestation of a type of dissonance - for while the intellect may "know" what has just occurred, the emotional brain is still trying to understand and come to terms with its ramifications.
This phenomenon is seen both with tragedies and also with very good news - however, it's not a universal nonverbal signal. Some people don't exhibit this behavior - or do so much less frequently. Facial touching in such scenarios indicates higher empathy quotients - while those who do not display this MAP (Manipulator, Adaptor, Pacifier) have lower empathy levels.
My deepest condolences for all those who have suffered in this horrific event.
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