COVID-19: Face masks make people look more attractive, study suggests

14 January 2022, 10:50 | Updated: 14 January 2022, 12:16

Face masks may have been among the more divisive issues of the COVID-19 pandemic but those reluctant to wear one may change their minds now that academics have discovered that people actually look more attractive when wearing one.

Yes, we know they cover up half of your face but a team of experts at Cardiff University has found that wearing a mask, in particular a blue medical mask, increases your facial attractiveness.

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Dr Michael Lewis, from the university's School of Psychology and an expert in the psychology of faces, said that prior to the pandemic research found that medical face masks reduced attractiveness.

His team wanted to see if the "ubiquitous" use of face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 since 2020 has changed people's perceptions of those wearing them.

The study measured how different types of face masks changed the attractiveness of 40 male faces.

A group of women was asked to rate the attractiveness of images of male faces without a mask, wearing a cloth mask, a blue medical mask and holding a black book covering the area a mask would hide, on a scale of one to 10.

The research was conducted in February 2021, seven months after face masks became mandatory in the UK.

What did the study discover?

Dr Lewis said: "Our study suggests faces are considered most attractive when covered by medical face masks. This may be because we're used to healthcare workers wearing blue masks and now we associate these with people in caring or medical professions.

"At a time when we feel vulnerable, we may find the wearing of medical masks reassuring and so feel more positive towards the wearer.

"We also found faces are considered significantly more attractive when covered by cloth masks than when not covered.

"Some of this effect may be a result of being able to hide undesirable features in the lower part of the face - but this effect was present for both less attractive and more attractive people."

Dr Lewis added: "The current research shows the pandemic has changed our psychology in how we perceive the wearers of masks. When we see someone wearing a mask we no longer think 'that person has a disease, I need to stay away'.

"This relates to evolutionary psychology and why we select the partners we do. Disease and evidence of disease can play a big role in mate selection - previously any cues to disease would be a big turn off. Now we can observe a shift in our psychology such that face masks are no longer acting as a contamination cue."

The university now plans to conduct research to see if the same results occur with female faces.