Follow for more talkers


Wearing a mask can make it harder to recognize faces

While faces were difficult to recognize, those wearing masks could still identify objects.


Front view of young students with face masks back at college or university, coronavirus concept.
(Ground Picture via Shutterstocl)

By Alice Clifford via SWNS

If you have a mask on it can be harder to recognize faces, even if the person you’re looking at isn't wearing one, a new study reveals.

A research team from York University did four different experiments with 80 participants in each.

Some people were given a mask to wear while others were not. Each person was then shown non-masked and masked faces.

The participants wearing masks struggled to recognize the masked and non-masked faces, while those not wearing masks found the task much easier.

“We wanted to investigate the effect of wearing a mask on face perception – something that hasn’t been explored before as far as we know – to see how the perception abilities of a masked observer changes in relation to others," said Dr. Erez Freud, an assistant professor at York University’s Faculty of Health, and co-author of the study.

The researchers suggest this could be because those wearing masks are aware that the bottom half of their face can’t be seen, making it more difficult to perceive that part of others.

“Masked observers might think their own faces are less recognizable and that could lead to reduced face processing abilities," Freud said.

“This might have to do with how people view things from other people’s perspectives, a process called alter-centric intrusion.”

However, this only happened when wearing a mask in a typical manner – covering the nose and mouth.

“We also found that the effect of mask-wearing on face perception is specific to situations only in which you wear the mask on the distinctive features of the face, such as your nose and mouth," Freud said.

“When we asked study participants to wear the face mask on their forehead, we did not find any effect of mask-wearing on face perception ability.”

While faces were difficult to recognize, those wearing masks could still identify objects.

“I was a bit surprised by the results of this study," Freud said.

“I didn’t think we would find such a robust effect of mask-wearing on face perception abilities, but I guess this is one of the reasons for which we do science.”

The study was published in the journal, Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.

Stories and infographics by ‘Talker Research’ are available to download & ready to use. Stories and videos by ‘Talker News’ are managed by SWNS. To license content for editorial or commercial use and to see the full scope of SWNS content, please email or submit an inquiry via our contact form.

Top Talkers