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Wearing face masks reduces our ability to read other’s emotions—study

June 02,2020 - 01:52 PM

Wearing face masks can make it more difficult to read one another’s emotions, according to a new study. Image: Denisfilm/IStock.com

A new German study has found that wearing face masks during the current COVID-19 pandemic could be impairing our ability to read one another’s emotions.

Carried out by Claus-Christian Carbon, a Professor of General Psychology and Methodology at the University of Bamberg, the new study looked at 41 participants aged between 18 and 87 and asked them to rate the emotional expressions of 12 different faces when they were wearing and not wearing face masks.

The participants were asked to rate six different expressions, including angry, disgusted, fearful, happy, neutral and sad.

The findings, which have been published on the preprint server PsyArxiv without having been peer-reviewed (meaning that they have not yet been verified by experts), showed that when the participants viewed faces that were partially covered by a mask they were less confident in their assessment of people’s emotions and also less accurate in reading their expressions.

The participants were also more likely to misinterpret emotions when people were wearing a mask, for example reading disgusted faces with masks as being angry or assessing a happy, sad and angry face as being neutral, a finding which Carbon said “is particularly interesting and alarming.”

While he acknowledges that wearing face masks is currently an essential measure for helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he adds that “although more and more Westerners are accepting such masks, many feel that wearing a mask affects social interaction. This is a major obstacle to wearing of masks in everyday life.”

“We can (and should) compensate for the inability to read emotions,” Carbon added. “For example, we can increasingly use body language, gestures and verbal communication in order to continue to be able to effectively interact socially.” NVG

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