Masks Protect and Beautify

Masks are messy. But, there are some scientific aspects to face coverings that need some attention. Masks have proven that we often do not need the entire face to recognize a person.

By Jamshed Arslan, PhD

We have also observed that a masked face quite frequently ‘becomes’ more beautiful than otherwise. The mechanism behind face recognition and ‘additional’ beauty is similar: our brain fills the gap, often with a romanticized version of reality.

Masks have their drawbacks as well, particularly its hindrance to verbal communication is evident. The reason is that when we talk, we share information not only through sound, but also by our gestures. When we listen to some, our brain keeps extracting meaning from the minute movements of lips and facial muscles. Missing a word or pronunciation is not a problem for an open face conversation because our mind’s lip- and facial-reading faculties provide coherence to the dialogs. Despite that, I can safely advocate wearing masks, not so much from the standpoint of COVID-19 protection, but as a beautifier.

Consider early years of a person. We call childhood blissful, but if you have any long-term experience with 2-3 year olds, you can attest to the frequent annoyance that the kids show. From our point of view, all of this may be cute, but small children are ready to cry, and making a pout face is just a second away from them. What makes childhood pleasant across various socioeconomic hierarchy of societies is the same phenomenon that makes a person wearing masks attractive: our mind makes the life worth-living by adding glorified details to the events lost from the memory.

It is the same reason why photos depict a reality often different from the video version of a past event. Such conflict between photos and videos occurs especially when recalling parties and childhood homes. Your birthday party may not be as pleasant and memorable as you think it was, and your childhood home is not as big as you thought it would be. The reality often dawns upon us in the form of old video of a birthday party in our childhood home.

The fact is that humans are a pattern-forming creature. We prefer conspiracy theory over having no theory at all. Masks not only protect people from the contagion (SARS-CoV-2), but also conspire to bring a ‘romanticized and more beautiful’ version of ourselves to the world. So, please wear a mask in public! 

Jamshed Arslan

Pharm D (gold medalist); PhD (Neuropharmacology) Skilled in basic and clinical research and scientific writing, with over a decade of teaching and research experience.

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