A Cardiff (Wales) University study published on Monday found that women may perceive men wearing face masks as more attractive.
The study, which was published in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, observed how a variety of face masks altered the attractiveness of 40 different male faces.
The researchers found that not only do coverings alter people’s perceived attractiveness but the type of covering plays a role as well, with blue medical masks ranking the highest in facial attractiveness.
Dr. Michael Lewis, a professor at Cardiff University’s School of Psychology who is an expert in the psychology of faces, said that: “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,” Lewis explained.
“At a time when we feel vulnerable, we may find the wearing of medical masks reassuring and so feel more positive towards the wearer.”
The study also indicated that people’s faces were perceived as dramatically more attractive when covered by cloth masks as opposed to uncovered.
“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,” Lewis said.
Study shows that women find men wearing face masks more attractive since the pandemic began
The team conducted the study by asking 43 female participants to rank the attractiveness of images of mens’ faces uncovered, wearing a cloth mask, a blue medical mask, and one where a black book obfuscated the portion of the face where a mask would be. The study was done in February, 2021.
Lewis explained how this phenomenon almost certainly relates to the context of the pandemic, specifically an association between masklessness and disease:
“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.”
The ubiquity of the pandemic, mask mandates, and the threat of Covid-19 infection has turned the previous pre-pandemic logic on its head: Where masks used to indicate disease, they now signal prevention.
“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,” said 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’.”