In case you’re still wary of masks to this day, researchers from the U.K.'s Cardiff University have found that people are actually more attractive while wearing them.
With the COVID-19 pandemic dampening the so-called “sanitary-mask effect” that once made people think that wearing a mask automatically meant they're sick, the research study titled "Beyond the beauty of occlusion: medical masks increase facial attractiveness more than other face coverings" aimed to find the link between facial attractiveness and occlusion, or the act of covering one's features.
"The pandemic has changed our psychology in how we perceive the wearers of masks. When we see someone wearing a mask we no longer think ‘that person has a disease, I need to stay away," explained Cardiff University's Michael Lewis, an expert on the psychology of seeing faces.
In February of 2021, the researchers gathered 43 female participants and presented them with a series of male faces in four variants: covered with a surgical mask, cloth mask, covered with a book, and not covered at all. The women were then asked to rate the given faces on an attractiveness scale from 1 to 7.
With the independent variables of base attractiveness and type of mask and the dependent variable of facial attractiveness, the research found that faces were considered as most attractive when covered by medical masks.
Data from the participants also found that people were significantly more attractive when covered with cloth masks than when their features weren't covered at all.
Lewis hypothesized that the results could also be a means to know the social cues that a potential partner picks up on, such as the COVID-19 pandemic: "This relates to evolutionary psychology and why we select the partners we do. Disease and evidence of disease can play a big role in mate selection – previously any cues to disease would be a big turn-off."
"Now we can observe a shift in our psychology such that face masks are no longer acting as a contamination cue.”
What type of masks are the most attractive?
Interestingly, between the options of a cloth mask and the classic blue surgical masks, the researchers found that the participants were more attracted to those wearing the blue surgical face mask—likely given its relation to frontliners and health workers amid the pandemic.
"Our study suggests faces are considered most attractive when covered by medical face masks. This may be because we’re used to healthcare workers wearing blue masks and now we associate these with people in caring or medical professions," Lewis said.
"At a time when we feel vulnerable, we may find the wearing of medical masks reassuring and so feel more positive towards the wearer."
Meanwhile, with their initial findings only focusing on the attractiveness level of men wearing masks, the researchers are working toward publishing another study asking the same questions for women wearing masks.
Though the second study hasn't been published, Lewis shared with The Guardian that the results were similar.