As recent research study undertaken by experts at the University of Stirling has revealed the effects of the recent increase in face mask wearing due to the current pandemic and the ability for people to recognise each other.

The study found that the use of surgical masks greatly impaired their colleague’s ability to face match both familiar and unfamiliar faces. The study asked 138 participants to view pairs of photographs of either famous celebrities or unfamiliar models. Volunteers were then placed in one of three groups where they were shown two faces together that both wore masks, then one wearing a mask and finally neither wearing a mask. In the cases where the faces were wearing a mask visual editing software was used to apply the surgical mask.

The study cleared showed that when an image of a person or different people, participants were far less likely to correctly identify faces wearing a surgical mask.

Dr Carragher said: “Our study demonstrates that surgical face masks significantly impair our ability to identify both familiar and unfamiliar individuals, and that the impairment is similar whether one or both faces in each pair are masked.

“This study differs from previous work, because the participants could always see the two faces they were comparing – just like a cashier that asks to see your photo-ID in a shop. We think this may be because face masks might disrupt the ability of the observer to process the face as a whole.

“However, it is also possible that adding a mask to a face may also alter the perceived appearance of the top half of the face, which typically has a larger influence on face recognition than the lower features.

“Our findings suggest that future research could focus on designing transparent face coverings that still allow identification of the individual, while also reducing the spread of the virus.”

Dr. Carragher

The findings of the study also highlighted the effect of the identification for famous faces just as much as unfamiliar faces.

The study also investigated whether surgical face masks would impair the performance of facial recognition systems that had not previously been trained to recognise masked faces.

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