(CNN)Little kids can often tell how people are feeling, even if that person is wearing a face mask, a new study published Monday found.
There has been some concern that the face masks used at school during the pandemic may be hurting younger children's development, but this research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that kids recognize emotions about as well as they could without masks.
For this study, researchers from University Hospital Lausanne in Switzerland showed 90 pictures at random to nearly 300 children ages 3 to 6. The photos showed actors who expressed joy, anger or sadness. In half of the images, actors wore masks.
They were asked to either name the emotion, point to a card showing emoticons with these emotions, tell the researcher that they didn't know the answer or say that they wanted to quit the experiment.
The children got most of the answers right and were able to match the emotions to the picture on the card at a nearly identical rate, whether the figure was wearing a mask or not.
Kids described the correct emotion more than 70% of the time when the actor was maskless and got it right more than 67% of the time when the figure wore a mask. The older the kids, the more answers they got correct. About a quarter of preschoolers had a harder time distinguishing sadness from anger and about 21% occasionally confused joy for anger or sadness.
"Actual face masks depicted in static pictures were significantly associated with emotion recognition in healthy preschool children, although differences were small and effect sizes were weak," the study said.
Ashley Ruba, a developmental psychology expert in the Child Emotion Lab at University of Wisconsin-Madison, was not affiliated with this study, but has done similar work during the pandemic. She said she saw similar results with her work.
"Even with masks being worn, little kids can probably still make reasonable inferences