December 2022
Volume 22, Issue 14
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   December 2022
Occluding face parts impairs human social communication
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Jelena Ristic
    Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • Sarah McCrackin
    Université de Fribourg
  • Footnotes
    Acknowledgements  Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC; JR); Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC; JR); William Dawson Funds (JR); NSERC-CREATE (SDM)
Journal of Vision December 2022, Vol.22, 3649. doi:
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      Jelena Ristic, Sarah McCrackin; Occluding face parts impairs human social communication. Journal of Vision 2022;22(14):3649.

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

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Faces communicate important social messages. The recent pandemic has resulted in a necessary occlusion of the lower face to prevent disease spread. How does occluding face parts impact facial emotion recognition and the ability to infer and share emotions? In a series of studies, we examined participants’ accuracy to recognize emotions and their ability to relate to protagonists emotionally while they wore no facial occluders, opaque or transparent eyeglasses, and opaque or transparent face masks. Our data yielded three main findings. First, occluding lower face parts with masks resulted in a significantly lower recognition for all six basic emotions. Second, occluding upper and lower face parts also impacted how participants related to the protagonists. We found that participants judged protagonists wearing opaque eyeglasses and masks as feeling less emotional and empathized less with them. Our final result indicated that while participants were able to infer emotions from protagonists wearing transparent eyeglasses or masks normatively, they reported feeling less empathy for them. In summary, occluding face parts with even transparent barriers impacts our ability to relate to others. Thus, along with a multitude of health consequences, the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have also altered our basic nonverbal social communication, with transparent masks providing some mitigating effects related to facial visual occlusion.


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