Children's emotion inferences from masked faces: Implications for social interactions during COVID-19

PLoS One. 2020 Dec 23;15(12):e0243708. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0243708. eCollection 2020.


To slow the progression of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have recommended wearing face coverings. However, very little is known about how occluding parts of the face might impact the emotion inferences that children make during social interactions. The current study recruited a racially diverse sample of school-aged (7- to 13-years) children from publicly funded after-school programs. Children made inferences from facial configurations that were not covered, wearing sunglasses to occlude the eyes, or wearing surgical masks to occlude the mouth. Children were still able to make accurate inferences about emotions, even when parts of the faces were covered. These data suggest that while there may be some challenges for children incurred by others wearing masks, in combination with other contextual cues, masks are unlikely to dramatically impair children's social interactions in their everyday lives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 / psychology
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Child
  • Emotions*
  • Face
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Masks*
  • Mouth / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity
  • Social Interaction