There are many questions surrounding face masks and the impact masks will have on facial identification. Can we recognize the faces of people we know well if they wear a mask? How do masks affect our ability to recognize a person’s emotions?
A new study shows for the first time that performance can be improved through the use of super recognizers, people who are very adept at recognizing faces. It also reveals that masks make it difficult to recognize someone’s emotions .
The study consisted of three experiments that tested familiar face recognition, unfamiliar face recognition (image comparison, also known as face matching), and emotion recognition. The researchers compared facial recognition and emotion recognition for faces without concealment, faces with masks and faces with sunglasses, something much more common than masks .
In the first experiment, participants were presented with pairs of famous faces and asked to decide whether the images were of the same person or of two different people.
People tend to identify the faces of people they know well very well, but masks reduced accuracy in this task. There was no difference in the accuracy of the faces with masks compared to the faces with sunglasses. Accuracy in the familiar facial recognition task remained high, around 90% .
A group of people who were known to be ‘superrecognizers’ also participated in the task. Super Recognizers have an exceptional natural ability to recognize a face. Super Recognizers outperformed typical observers of open faces, faces with masks and faces wearing sunglasses, showing that they still outperform typical observers even when looking at faces hidden.
What about recognizing a person’s emotional expressions? Participants in the study viewed images of faces and were asked to decide what emotion had been shown.
The emotions ‘happiness’, ‘disgust’ and ‘surprise’ were particularly difficult to recognize when faces were masked, but recognition of the emotions ‘anger’ and ‘fear’ was affected by both masks and sunglasses. .
The results of the study thus show that the lower half of the face is important for facial identification and emotion recognition. Not everything is in the eyes .