The effect of masks on the emotion perception of a facial crowd


The present study investigated the effect of facial masks on people’s ability to perceive emotions in crowds. We presented faces with the bottom halves occluded by masks or full faces without occlusion. In two sequentially presented crowds, we varied the number of faces, emotional valence, and intensity of facial expressions, examining the impact of masks on the perception of crowd emotion. Participants reported which of the two crowds they would avoid based on the crowds’ average emotions. The participants’ ability to judge the average emotion of a crowd, especially a crowd expressing happiness, was impaired when the crowd wore masks. For faces covered by masks, crowd emotion judgments were more negatively biased than those without masks. However, participants could still distinguish the emotional intensities of a crowd wearing masks above chance. Additionally, participants responded more quickly to a crowd with more people without compromising accuracy, despite the perceptual challenges imposed by facial masks. Our results suggest that under ambiguous social situations in which individuals’ emotions are partially hidden by masks, a large group may provide stronger social cues than a small group, thereby promoting communication and regulating social behaviors.

Cho, J., Im, H.Y., Yoon, Y.J. et al. The effect of masks on the emotion perception of a facial crowd. Sci Rep 13, 14274 (2023). [PDF]