Less is More?: The psychology of wearing face masks
The “new normal” for the foreseeable future will be masked. But will the constant sight of the masked community change our perceptions of their warmth, competence and their intelligence?
As humans, we have been programmed to rely on facial expressions to appreciate and empathize with fellow beings. The various moods and emotions are detected from contrasting parts of the face. The eyes give away the sadness and fear of an individual, whereas happiness and disgust rely on the exposed lower half of one’s visage.
We find comfort in knowing the mental state of our peers. But with facial covering becoming an unexpected yet essential accessory, it could promote more of a coldness to one’s aura. It makes one wonder if we’ll risk losing more social connection, but perhaps there are other ways perceptions of closeness could be increased, without spiking the actual risk- like a see through transparent mask
According to a clinical psychologist from New York, to some people, masking their countenance means admitting an unconfronted fear of vulnerability. They view the mask as a symbol of their susceptibility to Covid-19, and so to compensate the fear and as an act of foolish bravery they may reject wearing masks as a whole.
A study showed that, mere exposure to the populace sporting visors and masks substantially reduced the unfamiliarity of wearing a mask. The higher the frequency of one coming across someone with facial coverings, the less strange people feel about themselves. So the more people start donning masks as a new accessory, the higher the acceptance for using them in a sustainable way.
Image by Adam Nieścioruk (@adamsky1973) via Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/Z9arfr0f248)
Pareidolia refers to the strong psychological tendency to see faces, and facial features, in otherwise random features around us. It’s proven that hiding half the face significantly increases its attractiveness to observers. People are more optimistically biased when it comes to judging others’ facial attractiveness. This supports the "less is more" theory of facial appeal. Our brains when forced to fill in the missing features tends to reflexively assume a desirable profile missing in reality. Such a positive bias can make or break social interactions.
In our masked reality, we can only hope to adapt and overcome the fear and challenges of the pandemic. But together, we can make a difference with one small step, wear a mask!