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New research results: people can recognize sick people at a glance
Symptoms such as coughing or sneezing can be clear signs of illness. But who is sick can also be recognized by certain disease features that can be read on the face. Swedish researchers have now found out.
Detect diseases by smell
French researchers reported last year on a study showing that some German shepherds can smell breast cancer tumors. Previously, it was also known that certain dogs can sniff out other types of cancer such as colon cancer or lung cancer and, because of the smell, can warn against hypoglycemia in diabetes. But some people can smell diseases too. The BBC recently reported that a Scottish woman can recognize Parkinson's smell years before the onset of the disease. In any case, a large number of people are apparently able to recognize diseases of their fellow human beings - simply by looking at the face of their fellow human beings. Researchers from Sweden have now found that out.
People can see on a picture whether the person pictured is sick
A study by scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm showed that people can see on a picture whether the person pictured is sick.
The team led by neuroscientist and sleep researcher John Axelsson found in the study that signs of the disease, such as pale lips or droopy eyelids, were visible hours after an infection started.
"We perceive a number of facial expressions from other people and are likely to constantly assess other people's health," quotes the Guardian newspaper Axelsson.
The large number of early signals can be used to prevent infections by others.
Subjects were injected with coli bacteria
In the journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society B", the researchers report how they came to their results.
The scientists injected 16 healthy adult coli bacteria that caused an inflammatory reaction. Two hours later, the test subjects were photographed with a neutral facial expression.
In a second test, the test subjects were injected with a placebo and then taken photos again.
The portraits were then shown for a few seconds, first of 62 and then another 60 participants. They were asked whether the person pictured was sick or healthy.
Signs of illness on the face
According to the researchers, the participants correctly assessed whether someone was sick or not in 13 out of 16 cases. This corresponds to a hit rate of 81 percent.
Individuals who were photographed with colibacteria after injection were considered on average to be more sickly and tired than in photos taken after the placebo administration.
They were also rated with a more swollen face (swelling of the face), reddish eyes, less shiny and less blotchy skin, and a more drooping mouth, drooping eyelids and - in particular - paler lips.
Another analysis showed that assessing how sick a person was judged was most likely related to paler skin and weaker eyelids.
Low number of study participants
Professor Ben Jones of the University of Glasgow welcomed the research and, according to the Guardian, said: “This study contributes to the growing evidence for the existence of facial clues associated with acute illness and helps us understand how social stigmas are about People can develop who suffer from diseases. "
However, he also found that the study did not emulate real life, in which faces can show many types of variations, even on the same person.
Dr. University College London's Carmen Lefevre expressed concern about the small number of people who had been photographed.
Nonetheless, she said that research supports the idea that humans have developed a number of behavioral mechanisms that help prevent disease.
And Dr. Rachel McMullan of the Open University said it would be helpful to examine whether the results apply to different diseases.
"Being able to quickly identify potentially sick, contagious people and avoid sick people will certainly be an evolutionary advantage and this study is a good starting point for further research into how we can detect early signs of infection," said the expert .
The study authors also find that their work provides impetus for further research. According to a report by the APA news agency, they said: "Future studies should investigate to what extent facial expressions that mean an illness overlap with basic human emotions such as worry or fear, and how quickly people look for signs of illness among their fellow human beings." )