Wearing a face mask currently makes you more attractive, according to a new study from the University of Cardiff.
Researchers investigated whether the mass wearing of face coverings had affected the perceived attractiveness of the wearer, publishing their results in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, research found that medical face masks reduced the perceived attractiveness of the wearer. However, when the team studied the same topic again in the present day, they found that people's perceptions had changed – and it's not all down to what are perceived as "unattractive" features being concealed.
"The results show that faces were considered as most attractive when covered by medical masks and significantly more attractive when occluded with cloth masks than when not occluded," the team wrote in their paper.
"Contrary to expectation, base attractiveness did not interact with the type of occlusion, suggesting that this is not simply due to occlusion of negative features."
The small study asked women to rate the attractiveness of male faces when wearing a medical mask, a cloth mask, when obscured by a control object, and when not hidden at all. The 40 faces they rated had previously been rated for attractiveness, and a range of faces deemed attractive or not attractive was rated.
“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," Dr Michael Lewis, a Reader from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology and an expert in the psychology of faces said in a statement.
“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.”
The team believes that part of the effect is to do with how we perceive mask-wearers following months of seeing people wear them en masse. Counterintuitively, it may be that we no longer associate masks with disease.
“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,” Dr Lewis said.
"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.”