Face Masks and Face Recognition

Face masks present a new challenge for face identification in Western cultures, but we are used to seeing people with the upper half of their face covered by sunglasses. My collaborators and I set out to establish whether face masks present any greater a problem for face recognition than sunglasses. Our results showed that people were slightly poorer at recognising familiar faces when they wore face masks, but overall performance was high. For unfamiliar faces, people were poorer with sunglasses compared to unconcealed faces, and poorer still with masks. But this decrease in accuracy was small, and people could still perform the task well above chance level. Face masks, therefore, may not have as devastating an effect on face recognition as people may fear. We also tested a group of people who perform very well on standard face tests, so called ‘super-recognisers’. They too were impaired by face masks, but out-performed control participants across all of our experimental conditions. In this talk, I will discuss how we assambled a team of people who had never worked together before, I will talk through the research, and outline our future plans which include testing face recognition algorithms, and working with international organisations.


Dr Kay Ritchie, School of Psychology