The impact of briefly observing faces in opaque facial masks on emotion recognition and empathic concern

Josh Shepherd, Daniel Rippon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Since the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 in 2019, there have been global public health initiatives that have advocated for the community use of face masks to reduce spread of the virus. Although the community use of facial coverings has been deemed essential for public health, there have been calls for enquiries to ascertain how face masks may impact non-verbal methods of communication. The present study aimed to ascertain how the brief observations of faces in opaque facial coverings could impact facial emotion recognition. It was also an aim to ascertain if there was an association between levels of empathic concern and facial emotion recognition when viewing masked faces. An opportunity sample of 199 participants, who resided in the UK, were randomly assigned to briefly observe either masked (n = 102) or unmasked (n = 97) faces. Participants in both conditions were required to view a series of facial expressions, from the Radboud Faces Database, with models conveying the emotional states of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprised. Each face was presented to participants for a period of 250ms in the masked and unmasked conditions. A 6 (emotion type) x 2 (masked/unmasked condition) mixed ANOVA revealed that viewing masked faces significantly reduced facial emotion recognition of disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprised. However, there were no differences in the success rate of recognising the emotional state of anger between the masked and unmasked conditions. Furthermore, higher levels of empathic concern were associated with greater success in facially recognising the emotional state of disgust. The results of the present study suggest that significant reductions in emotion recognition, when viewing faces in opaque masks, can still be observed when people are exposed to facial stimuli for a brief period of time.
Original languageEnglish
Article number17470218221092590
Number of pages15
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Early online date27 Apr 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Apr 2022

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