The effect of face masks and sunglasses on identity and expression recognition with super-recognisers and typical observers

  • Eilidh Noyes (Creator)
  • Josh P. Davis (Creator)
  • Nikolay Petrov (Creator)
  • Katie L.H. Gray (Creator)
  • Kay L. Ritchie (Creator)



Face masks present a new challenge to face identification and emotion recognition in Western cultures. Here we present the results of three experiments that test the effect of masks, and also the effect of sunglasses (an occlusion that individuals tend to have more experience with) on 1) familiar face matching, 2) unfamiliar face matching, and 3) emotion recognition. Occlusion reduced accuracy in all three tasks, with most errors in the mask condition, however, there was little difference in performance for faces in masks compared to faces in sunglasses. Super-recognisers (SRs), people who are highly skilled at matching unconcealed faces, were impaired by occlusion, but at the group level, performed with higher accuracy than controls on all tasks. Results inform psychology theory with implications for everyday interactions, security, and policing in a mask-wearing society.

Data was collected using the online platform Qualtrics. Data file includes the response of each participant on each test item.

Usage notes
Group names: Prolific = 'unpracticed control', DB_Control = 'practiced control', DB_SR = super-recognisers. Please refer to ReadeMe file.
Date made available23 Mar 2021

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