Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications volume 7, Article number: 1 (2022 ) Cite this article
The sanitary-mask effect (Miyazaki and Kawahara in Jpn Psychol Res 58(3):261–272, 2016) is the finding that medical face masks prompt an image of disease and thus result in lower ratings of facial attractiveness of the wearer. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, medical masks have been found to increase attractiveness (Patel et al. in Plast Reconstruct Surg Glob Open 8(8), 2020) although this could have been a general effect of occlusion. To further explore this issue, female participants were presented with a series of male faces of low or high attractiveness that were occluded with a medical mask, cloth mask, book or not occluded and asked to rate them on attractiveness. 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. 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 present findings are contrary to the sanitary-mask effect and explanations in terms of social desirability, and the association of medical masks with caregiving professions is explored.
As a result of the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, there has been a sharp increase in demand for protective face masks globally to prevent the spread of the virus. Since July 2020 (Rab et al., 2020), it was mandatory to wear masks covering the mouth and nose in the UK in a number of different places, for example supermarkets and on public transport—although, rules changed after June 2021. Despite concerns about masks eliciting a false-sense of security (Javid et al., 2020), research shows they are of paramount importance in helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (Howard et al., 2021), which is reflected in government policy worldwide.