Out of 1572 students invited to take part in the study, 208 (13%; 115 medical, 93 nursing) students completed the survey by October 30, 2020, and were included in the analysis. Mean age was 21.8 (± 2.98), and 53 (25%) students were male.
Considering total number of errors in the facial emotion recognition task, a significant difference existed for masked vs unmasked stimuli, with higher errors in the masked set (9.6 ± 2.21 vs 4.96 ± 2.78, t(206) = − 13.25, p ≤ 0.001). Misattributions for both high and low intensity emotions were significantly greater in the masked (vs unmasked) condition. Mirroring this trend, misattributions for all emotion types but fear were significantly higher in the masked condition (see Table 1).
A 2 × 2 MANOVA was used to examine the main and interaction effects of masked (vs unmasked) faces and degree program (medical vs nursing) on errors for the four emotions considered. There was a significant main effect of masked/unmasked face for happiness, sadness, and anger, but not for fear. No main effect of the degree program, F(4, 201) = 2.142, p = 0.077, Wilks’ Λ = 0.959, partial η2 = 0.041, nor interaction effect of the degree program with masked/unmasked condition was found, F(4, 201) = 1.94, p = 0.105, Wilks’ Λ = 0.963, partial η2 = 0.037.
The 2 × 2 MANOVA exploring the effects of masked (vs unmasked) faces and degree program on errors for high- and low-intensity emotions revealed a statistically significant masked/unmasked main effect for misattributions for both low-intensity and high-intensity emotions. Neither a main effect for the degree program, F(2, 203) = 1.915, p = 0.15, Wilks’ Λ = 0.981, partial η2 = 0.019, nor an interaction effect of the degree program with masked/unmasked condition was found, F(2, 203) = 0.501, p = 0.607, Wilks’ Λ = 0.995, partial η2 = 0.005.