The use of face coverings to keep COVID-19 in check is not preventing kids from understanding facial expressions, says a study.
The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, showed that chidlren were not too bad at identifying emotions such as sadness, anger and fear from faces covered with masks.
“We now have this situation where adults and kids have to interact all the time with people whose faces are partly covered, and a lot of adults are wondering if that’s going to be a problem for children’s emotional development,” said Ashley Ruba, a postdoctoral researcher in University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Child Emotion Lab in the US.
The researchers showed more than 80 children, ages 7 to 13, photos of faces displaying sadness, anger or fear that were unobstructed, covered by a surgical mask, or wearing sunglasses.
The kids were asked to assign an emotion to each face from a list of six labels.
The faces were revealed slowly, with scrambled pixels of the original image falling into their proper place over 14 stages to better simulate the way real-world interactions may require piecing things together from odd angles or fleeting glimpses.
The kids were correct about the uncovered faces as often as 66 per cent of the time, well above the odds (about 17 per cent) of guessing one correct emotion from the six options.
With a mask in the way, they correctly identified sadness about 28 per cent of the time, anger 27 per cent of the time, and fear 18 per cent of the time.
“Not surprisingly, it was tougher with parts of the faces covered. But even with a mask covering the nose and mouth, the kids were able to identify these emotions at a rate better than chance,” said Ruba.