A new study published Monday shows that young children can often tell how people are feeling, even when that person is wearing a mask.
There is some concern that masks used at school during the pandemic could affect younger children’s development, but the research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that children may be able to recognize emotions Their contacts are as good as they can be without a mask.
For this study, researchers from Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland displayed 90 random pictures to nearly 300 children aged 3 to 6. The photos showed actors expressing joy, angry or sad. In half of the images, the actors wear masks.
They were asked to name the emotion, point to a card showing emojis with these emotions, tell the researcher they didn’t know the answer, or say they wanted to quit the experiment.
Children answered most of the questions correctly and were able to match emotions to the picture on the card in roughly the same proportions, whether the picture was masked or not.
Children were more accurate 70% of the time when the actor was not wearing a mask, and 67% more of the time when the character was wearing a mask. The older the kids, the more correct answers they got. About a quarter of preschoolers have more difficulty distinguishing sadness from anger, and about 21% sometimes confuse joy with anger or sadness.
The actual masks depicted in the still pictures were significantly associated with emotional recognition in healthy preschool children, although the difference was small and the effect size was small, the study said. weak,” the study said.
Ashley Ruba, a developmental psychologist at the Child Emotions Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was not involved in this study, but has done similar work during the pandemic. She says she has seen similar results with her work.
“Even with masks on, small children can make logical inferences about other people’s emotions,” Ruba said. “I want to point out that the face is not the most important way for us to communicate emotions, it’s just one way. We also use our voices, we have body postures, we have other types of contextual clues that children and adults can use to find out how people are feeling.”
As for language processing, it is important for children to learn how to read lips, but it is clear from the research that wearing a mask will not harm a child’s development.
“The risks of contracting Covid from not wearing a mask will likely outweigh any minor communication problems children may have,” she said.
As a developmental psychologist, she thinks there are many other aspects of the pandemic that can affect a child’s development, such as from the social isolation they have had from friends. peers when they have to stay home from school or if their parents have to lose their jobs, for example.
“Masks are probably at the bottom of the list,” she said.