A new study has found that people have difficulty identifying emotions when wearing masks. However, this is not the case when the cover is transparent.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Medical School, and Massachusetts General Hospital collaborated to study how masking affects nonverbal communication.

They also compared the abilities of general people, health care workers, and deaf people in identifying an individual’s emotion using both a normal opaque N95 mask and a transparent mask.

In each case, the people identified emotions correctly four times faster when they were wearing transparent masks.

While wearing the transparent masks, people of all three groups, general population (yellow), health care workers (blue) and hearing impaired health care workers (gray) were able to accurately identify the man's emotions around 80% of the time

While wearing the opaque mask, nearly 80% of respondents of all three groups, general population (yellow), health care workers (blue) and hearing impaired health care workers (gray), were unable to correctly identify his emotion

Researchers found that in all three study groups, general population (yellow), health care workers (blue) and hearing impaired health care workers (gray), around 80% of them were able to identify the correct emotion of the man wearing the mask if it was transparent. The mask that was opaque meant they were unable to correctly identify their emotion 20 percent of the times.

Each participant in the surve was shown a video of a man smiling. In one, he was wearing a transparent mask (right), in the other he was wearing a more standard opaque mask (left)

A video showing a smiling man was presented to each participant during the surve. One of the videos showed him wearing a transparent mask, while in another he was wearing an opaque mask.

Researchers published their findings Monday in JAMA Network Open. They had 1,000 participants to recruit. Divide into 3 groups

This was the first group, which is a general population that has never worn masks and interacted with them in the past.

A group of health workers was also available, which would have been used to communicate regularly with mask-wearing people in the workplace even before pandemic.

This group included hearing-impaired health workers who use nonverbal communication regularly and might be better at identifying certain signs of emotion.

There were 1,000 total participants to the survey, including 123 health workers, 45 hard-of hearing health workers, and 123 general population workers.

While the transparent masks did boost people's ability to correctly identify each others emotions, only 45% of the general population said they would be comfortable with the regular usage of those types of masks

The transparent masks were effective in enhancing people’s abilities to identify one another’s emotions. However, only 45% said they would use them on a regular basis.

Video clips were presented to them showing the smiles of one of their study authors while wearing masks, each with an opaque half and a transparent half.

Participants were asked to determine the emotions that the man was showing, whether they felt happy, sad, or neutral.

Only 20% correctly identified the happy man among the rest of the population. Nearly 70% answered that they weren’t sure.

However, only 78 percent of people surveyed could identify the emotion of a man wearing a transparent mask. This is nearly four times more than what was reported for general public.

Similar trends were also observed in the two other study groups.

A mere 20% of medical workers recognized the man smiling when he was wearing an obscure mask. However, nearly 80 percent said they were not sure. 

A transparent mask was worn by him and 88 percent of them could recognise his emotions.

“Our study revealed that communication barriers regarding mask use are a problem, especially for people with autism.” [hearing impaired]” Researchers said. 

“Furthermore we discovered that transparent masks are generally acceptable and can help improve communication between public and healthcare settings.”

The transparent mask was more effective for the hard-of hearing group than the opaque mask. 84 percent of them could recognize their emotions through it, while only 24% were able to.

Although this may lead some to believe that transparent masks should not be used in healthcare, the majority of patients do not like it. 

Only 45 percent thought it was positive to interact with a doctor wearing a transparent face mask, according to the researchers.

Three quarters of respondents stated that they felt neutral towards the masks, while only a small number reported feeling negative. 

However, health care workers expressed willingness to wear them with 62% of general healthcare workers reporting positive feelings and 82% with hearing impairments.