September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
Recognition of emotions is affected by face masks
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Sarah McCrackin
    McGill University
  • Francesca Capozzi
    McGill University
  • Ethan Mendell
    McGill University
  • Sabrina Provencher
    McGill University
  • Florence Mayrand
    McGill University
  • Jelena Ristic
    McGill University
  • Footnotes
    Acknowledgements  SSHRC, NSERC, William Dawson
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 2153. doi:
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      Sarah McCrackin, Francesca Capozzi, Ethan Mendell, Sabrina Provencher, Florence Mayrand, Jelena Ristic; Recognition of emotions is affected by face masks. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):2153.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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While masks are critical in mitigating disease contagion, they obscure facial features that are important for nonverbal social communication, i.e., emotions, intentions, or mental states. Here we investigated how nonverbal social communication is affected by mask wearing. We asked participants (n=117) to identify happy, angry, fearful, sad, surprised, disgusted, and neutral emotional expressions from masked and unmasked face images. Overall, the data indicated that both hit rate and sensitivity were reduced for all emotions when faces wore masks. Discrimination of disgust was impacted the most (52% reduction in sensitivity), indicating that recognition of this emotion relies strongly on information from the bottom of the face. Perception of sad (18% reduction), happy (15%), and surprised expressions (15%) were impacted less while angry (12%), neutral (8%) and fearful expressions (7%) were impacted the least, indicating that the recognition of these expressions may be largely driven by information from the top of the face (e.g., eyes). Together these results reveal novel insights about the face features contributing to different emotion recognition and additionally suggest an important impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on human social communication.


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