By Alice Clifford

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

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.

People seen wearing a face mask walk on the street during the rush hour. It can be harder to recognize faces, even when the person who is looked at isn’t wearing one, VACHIRA VACHIRA/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES  

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

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, 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.” Freud said.

Students in a class. The effect of mask-wearing on face perception is specific to situations only in which one wears the mask, on the distinctive features of the face SAZZAD HOSSAIN/SOPA IMAGES/ LIGHTROCKET/ VIA GETTY IMAGES 

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

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

“it is hard to know people sometimes when they are wearing a mask, I have walked past my friends at some point without recognizing them” said a respondent. 

Produced in association with SWNS Talker.

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