Can you recognize your friends

using only their eyes and eyebrows?

You have probably haven’t seen your friends' nose​ or mouth recently. With everyone wearing a mask, it sometimes feels like every day is Halloween or a carnival day! And it’s often not easy to figure out who is behind that piece of fabric which covers most of our face.


At least our eyes and eyebrows aren't covered by the masks. Neither is our hair - except during the several months in winter when we have to wear hoods and hats. Is that enough to clearly recognize our friends without a doubt, and wave at them excitedly and say hi?

But before you say hi and excitedly chat with that person you think is a friend, read on first!

Illustration: Paul Paetzel

Illustration of a person wearing a mask that says "the virus stops here" and there's a coronavirus

Unfortunately, scientists from Ontario and Israel have proven that we are not so great at identifying faces when they are wearing a mask. This new research showed that humans usually recognize faces as a whole, rather than using very specific details (eyes and eyebrows in this case). This is why, even for people we are familiar with, we might not recognize them, or may even confuse them with a stranger because of their mask.

More than ever before, we have been paying attention to people’s eyes and eyebrows over the last months. Yet we have not trained ourselves to recognize people based on these characteristics only, which is why it comes as no surprise that the participants of the scientific study were not able to recognize faces wearing a mask as well as when they were shown uncovered faces. It’s like playing the “Guess who?” game, but using eyes and eyebrows only. This is not that easy!

So until then, should we wear masks printed with our own face?  Or is that too creepy?

Having most of our faces covered can also affect how we perceive others’ emotions! For example, it could be hard to tell if someone smiles, or is disappointed. While it isn’t impossible, “reading” people’s feelings usually requires us to see their whole face, not only their eyes and eyebrows.

So while you might not be able to recognize your friend, or what feeling they’re showing, make sure to wear your mask properly! No matter which mask design and print you choose, it has to be tight around the nose and cheeks, so that it protects you and others. And in the meantime, you can be reassured: you are not the only one who sometimes has trouble recognizing or understanding people wearing a mask!

10 photos of people wearing masks that have their own face printing on it

Photo illustration: Slate

P.S. If you are using one of these blue masks called surgical masks, here is a trick to make it fit well ;)