People Can Recognize the Emotions of Other People in Face Masks – Neuroscience News

Summary: When the whole body is visible, people can identify the emotions and traits of other people wearing face masks.

Source: Durham University

A novel study conducted by psychologists from Durham University, UK has revealed that people can identify emotions and traits of other people wearing a face mask when the whole body is visible.

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 had no affect at all on emotion recognition.

The study further adds that, although participants recognise the emotions in masked faces overall, they were significantly less accurate at recognising happiness and less confident in judging the emotion of another person in face mask.

Full result of the study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

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.

This shows people expressing different emotions, with and without facemasks
They discovered that participants could effectively recognise emotions portrayed through the body and face masks had no affect at all on emotion recognition. Credit: The researchers

“However, most of this research has used isolated pictures of heads, which are very rarely seen in the real world. By using pictures of full bodies, we have shown 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 emotions can also be conveyed by the body. 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 face mask. They suggest that people wearing a face mask should put extra effort through 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 have a negative influence on people’s ability to read emotions and socially interact with each other, as long as the whole body is visible.

About this emotional recognition research news

Author: Araf Din
Source: Durham University
Contact: Araf Din – Durham University
Image: The image is credited to the researchers

Original Research: Open access.
Are face masks a problem for emotion recognition? Not when the whole body is visible” by P. Ross and E. George. Frontiers in Neuroscience

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Abstract

Are face masks a problem for emotion recognition? Not when the whole body is visible

The rise of the novel COVID-19 virus has made face masks commonplace items around the globe. Recent research found that face masks significantly impair emotion recognition on isolated faces. However, faces are rarely seen in isolation and the body is also a key cue for emotional portrayal.

Here, therefore, we investigated the impact of face masks on emotion recognition when surveying the full body. Stimuli expressing anger, happiness, sadness, and fear were selected from the BEAST stimuli set.

Masks were added to these images and participants were asked to recognize the emotion and give a confidence level for that decision for both the masked and unmasked stimuli.

We found that, contrary to some work viewing faces in isolation, emotion recognition was generally not impaired by face masks when the whole body is present.

We did, however, find that when viewing masked faces, only the recognition of happiness significantly decreased when the whole body was present. In contrast to actual performance, confidence levels were found to decline during the Mask condition across all emotional conditions.

This research suggests that the impact of masks on emotion recognition may not be as pronounced as previously thought, as long as the whole body is also visible.

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