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Face masks make you look more attractive, study finds

Researchers at Cardiff University have found that people with facial masks were seen as more attractive compared to those that were non-occluded

woman in white face mask
This paper was made available in partnership with the Swiss School of Business Research.
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Wearing facial masks is a relatively new practice for many of us. Nonetheless, in countries like Japan, South Korea, and China, wearing a facial mask was rather common even before the pandemic began. This is mainly because they believe wearing a mask reduces the transmission of viruses.

In 2016, Japanese researchers Yuki Miyazaki and Jun-ichiro Kawahara wanted to investigate the effect of wearing a facial mask on perceived facial attractiveness. What they found was that faces covered by a medical mask were seen as less attractive than those that were not (regardless of base attractiveness). In contrast, when faces were covered with other facial obstructors, attractiveness ratings increased for faces low in base attractiveness and decreased for faces high in base attractiveness. They coined this as the “sanitary-mask effect”. The reason for this, as Miyazaki and Kawahara explain, is that medical masks prompt an image of disease and thus result in lower ratings of facial attractiveness of the wearer.

However, in a new study, researchers Oliver Hies and Michael Bevan Lewis at Cardiff University have found that men with a facial mask were seen as more attractive compared to those that were non-occluded.

The experiment was run in February 2021, seven months after wearing masks became mandatory in the UK. A total of 40 participants, most of them between the ages of 18 and 24, were presented with a number of faces (each face was presented four times: (1) medical mask, (2) cloth mask, (3) book, (4) non-occluded, as shown in the picture below) and asked to rate them from 1 to 7.

Examples of the four faces presented during experiment: non-occluded, book, cloth masks, and face mask (Image from original paper)

To the surprise of the researchers, the results show that covering your face improves attractiveness. Moreover, the findings suggest that wearing a medical mask enhanced facial attractiveness more than cloth masks. As the authors suggest: “It is possible that the additional advantage for medical masks comes from their associations with medical professionals, where they are seen as a sign of being responsible and caring citizens”

Next time you go on a date, keeping your mask on might not be a bad option after all.

See the paper here or download the PDF →

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