The findings reveal that during in-person interactions or other settings, when the whole body can be seen, there is no difference in people’s ability to recognise emotions whether people are wearing masks or not.
The researchers carried out this experiment with 70 participants from the UK using the stimuli expressing anger, happiness, sadness and fear from Van den Stock and de Gelder’s (2011) BEAST stimuli image set and adding a face mask to those images.
They discovered that participants could effectively recognise emotions portrayed through the body, and face masks did not affect emotion recognition.
The study further adds that, although participants recognised the emotions in masked faces overall, they were significantly less accurate at identifying happiness and less confident in judging another person’s emotion in the face mask.
Lead author of the study, Dr Paddy Ross of Durham University, said: ‘Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, research has suggested that emotion recognition and social interaction would be seriously affected by wearing face masks.’
‘However, most of this research has used isolated pictures of heads, which are rarely seen in the real world. Using pictures of full bodies shows that wearing face masks makes very little difference to emotion recognition as long as you are also emoting with your body.’
The study results indicate that, in most social interactions, people will be more than capable of determining the emotion of a masked person because the body can also convey emotions. This is also before taking the voice into account, which is a key aspect of emotion recognition.
The researchers highlight the significant reduction in people’s ability to recognise happiness when a person is wearing a face mask. They suggest that people wearing a face mask should put extra effort into their body or voice by using simple gestures such as thumbs up to portray happiness more visibly.
This study contradicts the findings of previous literature, which used isolated images (face only) to determine that face masks limit the emotion recognition capability of people.
The new findings dispel the notion that face masks negatively influence people’s ability to read emotions and socially interact with each other, as long as the whole body is visible.
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