Does acute sleep loss affect our social impressions?

sleep loss
© Fabio Camandona

Study suggests sleep loss may be having a noticeable impact on how we view and interact with others on a personal level

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden have discovered that when young adults are sleep-deprived evaluate angry faces as less trustworthy with neutral and fearful faces appearing less attractive.

Using sensor technology to monitor eye tracking the team were able to detect what a person was looking at in real time whilst performing their experiment. Looking at 45 young men and women researchers examined how acute sleep loss affected the way people evaluated happy, fearful, angry, and neutral faces.

Finding results through restricting and monitoring sleep

Study participants were required to spent one night with no sleep at all and one night with an eight-hour sleep opportunity – with their eye movements being measured in the mornings following both nights.

“When sleep-deprived, our research subjects spent less time fixating on faces. Since facial expressions are crucial to understanding the emotional state of others, spending less time fixating on faces after acute sleep loss may increase the risk that you interpret the emotional state of others inaccurately or too late,” said Lieve van Egmond, first author and PhD student in the Department of Surgical Sciences at Uppsala University.

Understanding the impacts of sleep loss

Results showed that patients rated angry faces as less trustworthy and healthy-looking and neutral and fearful faces as less attractive indicating sleep loss is associated with more negative social impressions of others. “This could result in less motivation to interact socially,” said senior author Christian Benedict, Associate Professor of Neuroscience.

“Our participants were young adults. Thus, we do not know whether our results are generalisable to other age groups. Moreover, we do not know if similar results would be seen among those suffering from chronic sleep loss,” said Lieve van Egmond.


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