A smile means happiness, a frown sadness, a raised brow surprise. Even when languages and cultures differ, people have this universal form of communication. But Moebius syndrome, a rare congenital condition causing facial paralysis, can rob people of this basic connection, affecting social interaction. However, contrary to previous studies, it does not appear to increase anxiety and depression or lower their satisfaction with life, compared to a control group.
A new study reported in the recent issue of The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal quantitatively examined social competence, anxiety and depression associated with this condition. Thirty-seven adults with Moebius syndrome and an equal number of subjects in a gender-matched control group participated in this Internet-based quasi-experimental study.
The current study found that people with Moebius syndrome did not differ significantly from the control group in terms of anxiety, depression or satisfaction with life. They did show lower social competence, probably as a result of the misinterpretations of others. It did not appear to affect quality of life issues. This may be due to their ability to compensate by reading emotions and using body language to communicate what they're feeling.
According to the study, people with Moebius syndrome correctly identify emotions in others at the same rate as those without the syndrome. They can also help compensate for their lack of facial expression by "using eye contact to display confidence and prosody, body language, and verbal disclosure to express emotion."
"Many people with the condition live professionally and personally successful lives," the authors state.
These conclusions show that people with Moebius syndrome are better adjusted than previous research would indicate. The authors credit their conclusions to the novel approach taken with this study, which resulted in a larger, more diverse sample.
The study was conducted online, allowing people from across the United States to participate. Subjects were recruited from the Moebius Syndrome Foundation, not just through medical facilities, and results were compared with those from an age- and gender-matched control group. Additionally, because people who have lived with this condition from birth may have different experiences and outlooks from those with later onset, only people with the congenital condition of Moebius syndrome were studied. Past research has included people with similar acquired conditions, such as Bell palsy.
Moebius syndrome is a nonprogressive disease that occurs early in prenatal life. It is typically characterized by complete bilateral facial paralysis, but also can include limb or hand malformations and hypoglossia—weakness or malformation of the tongue. Speech difficulties, which can be mostly resolved with therapy, are also frequently part of this condition. The cause of Moebius syndrome is unknown.
The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal