A recent study , carried out by researchers from the U-Vip (Unit for the Visually Impaired) and led by Monica Gori at the IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology), shows for the first time how children aged 3 at 5 years they have trouble recognizing the emotions of people who wear masks .
Adults do know how to do it, although it is not as easy as it seems.
Happiness, sadness, fear and anger
Researchers from the IIT prepared a questionnaire containing images of people with and without masks, and showed them by computer, tablet or smartphone to 119 people including 31 children between 3 and 5 years old, 49 children between 6 and 8 years old and 39 adults between 18 and 30 years old.
The subjects, independently or with the assistance of the parents in the case of the youngest, were asked to try to recognize the expressions of the faces, with and without a mask, transmitting different emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear and anger. .
The results showed that children between 3 and 5 years of age are able to recognize facial expressions that convey happiness and sadness in only 40% of the times when their faces are covered by a mask . The percentages were higher for other age groups: children 6 to 8 years old (55-65%) and adults (70-80%), but in general, all age groups showed a degree of difficulty in interpreting these expressed emotions while the face was partially covered by a mask.
Regarding the rest of emotions, better results were obtained, but the age group that has the most difficulties to recognize the emotions expressed behind a mask is that of preschool-age children. According to Gori:
The experiment was conducted in the early phases of the 2020 pandemic, and at that time face masks were still a new experience for everyone. Children’s brains are very flexible, and we are currently running tests to determine whether children’s understanding of emotions has increased or not.