The Issue of Masks and Emotional Expressions

It has been about 2 years since we have all started wearing masks on a daily basis to help slow the spread of Covid-19. Studies have been done to look into the impact of masks on perceived attractiveness, but what about the impact on emotional expressions? With masks covering a large part of a person’s face, it may be hard to discern different emotional expressions, which could impact social interactions.

German researchers conducted a study on 191 adults. The participants were randomly placed into two conditions, masked and unmasked, and asked to take part in an emotion-recognition task. The participants were shown pictures of human faces and asked what expression those faces were showing and were also asked to rate how they deemed each face’s likableness, trustworthiness and how close the participants felt to them.

The researchers found that those in the masked condition had significantly more trouble with their emotion-recognition accuracy. Those in the unmasked condition had an accuracy of 69.9% whereas those in the masked condition had an accuracy of 48.9%. While researchers didn’t find masks affect trustworthiness or likableness, they did find that masks may have an effect on closeness. The researchers also found that masked faces tended to buff negative emotional expressions, like anger, leading to an increase in trustworthy, likable and closeness compared to unmasked negative emotional expressions.

The study does come with limitations, as the faces in the study were static pictures, in the real world emotional expressions are not as clear.


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