CARDIFF, United Kingdom — Are face masks actually helping some people in the dating scene? Along with helping to curb the spread of COVID-19, researchers from the University of Cardiff find masks may actually make wearers appear more attractive.
Scientists assessed how different types of face masks “changed attractiveness” among a group of 40 men. That process led to the conclusion that blue medical masks increase attractiveness the most wearers. So, maybe grab a few of those before your next date night!
“Research carried out before the pandemic found medical face masks reduce attractiveness – so we wanted to test whether this had changed since face coverings became ubiquitous and understand whether the type of mask had any effect,” says Dr. Michael Lewis, from Cardiff’s School of Psychology and an expert in the psychology of faces, in a university release.
“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,” the researcher adds.
Pandemic changing the perception of mask wearers
To gauge attractiveness, 43 women judged each man’s face across four scenarios: without a mask, while wearing a cloth mask, while wearing a blue medical face mask, and while holding a plain black book covering the area a face mask would conceal. The women ranked attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10.
“The results run counter to the pre-pandemic research where it was thought masks made people think about disease and the person should be avoided,” Dr. Lewis notes. “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,” Lewis concludes.
The team notes they conducted this work in February 2021, roughly seven months after face masks became mandatory in the United Kingdom. Further research is already underway to test how face masks influence the attractiveness of female faces.
The findings appear in the journal Cognitive Research Principles and Implications.