Face masks have a limited effect on the feeling of being looked at

Lobmaier, Janek S.; Knoch, Daria (2022). Face masks have a limited effect on the feeling of being looked at. Frontiers in neuroscience, 16 Frontiers Research Foundation 10.3389/fnins.2022.1028915

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Introduction: Wearing face masks has been promoted as an effective measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Because face masks cover a major part of the face, they have detrimental effects on various aspects of social cognition. Yet, a highly important feature of the face is not occluded by face masks: the eyes. The eyes play an important role in social interactions: knowing where another person is looking is of central importance when interacting with others. Recent research has reported an attentional shift toward the eye region as a consequence of the widespread exposure to face masks. However, no study has yet investigated the influence of face masks on the perception of eye gaze direction. Here we investigated whether face masks have an effect on the feeling of being looked at. Assuming an attentional shift toward the eyes, we might expect more accurate gaze perception in faces wearing face masks.
Methods: Sixty-five participants decided for a series of realistic avatar faces whether each face was making eye contact or not. Half of the faces wore face masks, the other half did not. For each participant and separately for each condition (mask vs. no mask), we calculated the cone of direct gaze (CoDG), a commonly used measure to quantify the range of gaze angles within which an observer assumes mutual gaze.
Results: Contrary to our expectations, results show that mutual gaze is not recognized more accurately in masked faces. Rather, the CoDG was, on average, slightly wider for faces wearing masks compared to faces without masks.
Discussion: Notwithstanding the relatively small effect of face mask, these findings potentially have implications on our social interactions. If we inadvertently feel looked at by an onlooker, we may react inappropriately by reciprocating the alleged approach orientation.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Social Neuroscience and Social Psychology
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Lobmaier, Janek Simon, Knoch, Daria


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology




Frontiers Research Foundation




Janek Simon Lobmaier

Date Deposited:

30 Nov 2022 08:57

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 16:29

Publisher DOI:






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