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Masks Don't Mask Others' Emotions for Kids

TUESDAY, Dec. 29, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Children can still read the emotional expressions of people wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers say.

"We now have this situation where adults and kids have to interact all the time with people whose faces are partly covered, and a lot of adults are wondering if that's going to be a problem for children's emotional development," said study co-author Ashley Ruba, a postdoctoral researcher in the Child Emotion Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For the study, more than 80 7- to 13-year-olds were shown photos of faces with expressions of sadness, anger or fear. The faces were either uncovered, covered by a surgical mask, or had sunglasses on.

The kids identified the emotions of uncovered faces 66% of the time -- well above the odds of guessing.

When confronted with a masked face, kids correctly identified sadness about 28% of the time, anger 27% of the time, and fear 18% of the time, according to the findings.

"Not surprisingly, it was tougher with parts of the faces covered. But even with a mask covering the nose and mouth, the kids were able to identify these emotions at a rate better than chance," Ruba said in a university news release.

If kids can read other people's emotions even if they have a mask on, they're likely to do even better in real-life situations, she said.

"Emotions aren't conveyed solely through your face," Ruba said. "Vocal inflections, the way that someone positions their body, and what's going on around them, all that other information helps us make better predictions about what someone is feeling."

The study shows that kids' emotional capabilities can continue to develop even if some of their interactions are with others wearing face coverings.

"I hope this settles some nerves," Ruba said. "Kids are really resilient. They're able to adjust to the information they're given, and it doesn't look like wearing masks will slow down their development in this case."

The study was published Dec. 23 in the journal PLOS ONE.

More information

Rasmussen College has more on children's emotional development.

SOURCE: University of Wisconsin-Madison, news release, Dec. 23, 2020

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