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Wearing a mask can impact ability to recognize others, study says

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A new study shows wearing a mask can impact the ability to recognize other people, even if they have nothing covering their face. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/0a7a6de596200c4033182e61d76b247d/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
A new study shows wearing a mask can impact the ability to recognize other people, even if they have nothing covering their face. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Wearing a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic presented identification issues at airports and with smartphones, but a new study finds those wearing a mask are also impacted when it comes to recognizing friends and co-workers -- even if those people have nothing covering their face.

New research from York University, published Wednesday in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, shows how face perception abilities are disrupted for the person wearing a mask, regardless of whether the person's face they are looking at is covered or uncovered.

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"We wanted to investigate the effect of wearing a mask on face perception -- something that hasn't been explored before as far as we know -- to see how the perception abilities of a masked observer changes in relation to others," said Erez Freud, assistant professor of York's Faculty of Health.

The study, which was conducted over four experiments, asked 80 participants to identify masked and non-masked faces while the participant was wearing and not wearing a mask.

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Researchers found that wearing a mask affected the ability to recognize the faces of others, much more than whether those being observed wore a mask or not.

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"Masked observers might think their own faces are less recognizable and that could lead to reduced face processing abilities. This might have to do with how people view things from other people's perspectives, a process called alter centric intrusion," Freud said.

Researchers said they also believe the mask-wearer's constant tactile stimulation to the lower part of their face is a constant reminder that people can't see all of them and may in turn cause them difficulty in perceiving the nose and mouth of others.

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"We also found that the effect of mask-wearing on face perception is specific to situations only in which you wear the mask on the distinctive features of the face, such as your nose and mouth," Freud said.

"When we asked study participants to wear the face mask on their forehead, we did not find any effect of mask wearing on face perception ability."

While face masks affected the wearer's perception of other faces, it did not affect their recognition of objects, such as an orange.

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"I was a bit surprised by the results of this study," Freud said. "I didn't think we would find such a robust effect of mask-wearing on face perception abilities, but I guess this is one of the reasons for which we do science."

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