“We now have this situation where adults and children have to continually interact with people whose faces are partially covered, and many adults are wondering if this will be a problem for children.
The researchers showed more than 80 children, ages 7 to 13, photos of faces showing unimpeded sadness, anger or fear, covered in a surgical mask or wearing sunglasses.
The children were asked to assign an emotion to each face from a list of six labels.
Faces were slowly revealed, with jumbled pixels from the original image falling into their correct 14-step position to better simulate how real-world interactions may require putting things together from odd angles or fleeting glances.
Boys were right about uncovered faces up to 66% of the time, well above the odds (about 17%) of guessing a correct emotion out of the six options.
With a mask on the street, they correctly identified sadness about 28% of the time, anger 27% of the time, and fear 18% of the time.
“Not surprisingly, it was more difficult with parts of the face covered. But even with a mask that covered the nose and mouth, the children were able to identify these emotions at a better rate than the case,” Ruba said.