Besides COVID prevention, there is an upside to wearing the ubiquitous face masks worn in many countries: they increase attractiveness, at least in men.
A study published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications measured how different types of face masks changed the attractiveness of 40 male faces.
However, the researchers discovered the type of covering matters – blue medical masks were found to increase facial attractiveness more than other types of masks.
Dr. Michael Lewis, an expert in the psychology of faces, said: “Research carried out before the pandemic found medical face masks reduce attractiveness – so we wanted to test whether this had changed since face coverings became ubiquitous and understand whether the type of mask had any effect.
“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. At a time when we feel vulnerable, we may find the wearing of medical masks reassuring and so feel more positive towards the wearer.
“We also found faces are considered significantly more attractive when covered by cloth masks than when not covered. Some of this effect may be a result of being able to hide undesirable features in the lower part of the face—but this effect was present for both less attractive and more attractive people.”
In the study, 43 female participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of images of male faces without a mask; wearing a cloth mask; a blue medical face mask and holding a plain black book covering the area a face mask would hide. The research took place seven months after face masks became mandatory in the UK.
“The results run counter to the pre-pandemic research where it was thought masks made people think about disease and the person should be avoided,” commented Dr Lewis.
“The current research shows 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’.
“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.”
Next steps are to see if the reverse holds true for women’s attractiveness to men.
Source: Cardiff University