Wearing Covid-19 masks? Adults not getting better at recognizing masked faces even after 2 years: Study

Toronto (Canada): Adults still have trouble identifying persons when their face is hidden by a mask, more than two years after the pandemic began, according to a recent York University study. The most recent study by researchers from York and Ben-Gurion University in Israel shows that people`s capacity to recognize faces despite masks does not get better with time. The study was released today in the journal Psychological Science and is titled Recognition of masked faces in the era of the pandemic: No improvement, despite substantial, natural exposure. Adults’ capacity to recognize these partially veiled faces has not changed as a result of frequent exposure to masked faces throughout the pandemic, according to researchers.

According to the study’s senior author, Erez Freud, an assistant professor in the faculty of health at York University, “neither time nor experience with masked faces changed or improved the face mask effect.” This demonstrates that even after being exposed to masked faces repeatedly, the adult brain does not appear to be able to alter the way it interprets faces. The ongoing pandemic gave the researchers an unheard-of chance to investigate the maturing face processing system`s flexibility. More than 2,000 persons were put through a series of tests by the researchers, who displayed them with and without masks on both upright and inverted faces. At six distinct times throughout the epidemic, various adult population groups underwent testing.

Additionally, the researchers examined the same group shortly after the pandemic began and again a year later. Adults exhibited absolutely no improvement in their capacity to detect masked faces in either the cross-sectional or longitudinal studies. Using the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT), which is regarded as the gold standard to measure face recognition abilities, prior research found that when an adult was wearing a mask, their ability to recognize faces fell by roughly 15%. Face masks also obstruct the processing of unmasked faces, which is typically done holistically rather than by the various components of the face. The Glasgow Face Match Test, an additional measure of face perception, was also employed in this current study to see whether anything had changed from the previous one in addition to the CFMT.

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This demonstrates that face processing in people, at least in adults, is rigid even after extensive exposure to partially concealed faces in the actual world, according to Freud. Face sensitivity first manifests in babies who demonstrate a predilection for faces or objects that resemble faces, particularly well-known faces. The face processing system, which continues to develop until the end of puberty, differs from the mature face processing system in that it is refined in part by frequent exposure to faces as a child.

According to Freud, it would be interesting to investigate if children’s capacity for face recognition changes with exposure over time and whether the pandemic has affected this capacity. 

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