Wallet, keys, phone, mask. Mask-wearing, a core and useful intervention to combat the raging pandemic, has become a daily habit for most people. It's also, however, raised concerns around kids' ability to understand emotions and social clues when surrounded by masked adults.
Psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison explored this question of how well kids can identify anger, sadness, and fear among mask-wearers in a study of 81 US children aged seven to 13 years old published in PLoS ONE. Study participants made inferences about the emotions being conveyed in facial configurations of digital simulations of three types of faces: uncovered, wearing sunglasses, or wearing surgical masks.
Though children were best able to identify emotions in uncovered images 66 percent of the time, children were still able to successfully draw emotional inferences from facial configurations of mask wearers. This accuracy was also no more impaired by mask wearing than it was by sunglass wearing, with kids identifying emotions around 27 percent correctly in both cases.
Children's resilience, already supported by strong evidence in this study, is likely to be increased in real-world settings, where additional clues like vocal inflection and body language clue kids into what emotions to expect from others. The study suggest that kids are well able to adapt to mask-wearing without impediments to their growth and development.