The pictures showed men wearing different types of face coverings including a plain cloth mask, a blue medical face mask, and even holding a plain black book covering the lower half of their face.
The participants found those wearing a cloth mask much more attractive than those without masks or whose faces were partly obscured by the book.
Interestingly, the men wearing the surgical mask were deemed the most attractive.
Dr Michael Lewis, an expert in faces who helped conduct the study, said the findings contradict research carried out before the pandemic which found that medical face masks reduced attractiveness due to their association with illness.
He told the Guardian: “We wanted to test whether this had changed since face coverings became ubiquitous and understand whether the type of mask had any effect.
“Our study suggests faces are considered most attractive when covered by medical face masks. This may be because we’re used to healthcare workers wearing blue masks and now we associate these people in caring or medical professions.
“At a time when we feel vulnerable, we may find the wearing of medical masks reassuring and so feel more positive towards the wearer.”
The results of the first study were published in the journalist Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.
A second version of the study, in which men rate the attractiveness of women with or without masks, has also been carried out.
It has not yet been published but Lewis said the results were similar.
He added that the Covid-19 pandemic has “changed our psychology in how we perceive the wearers of masks.”
“When we see someone wearing a mask we no longer think ‘that person has a disease, I need to stay away’,” he said.
He added: “This relates to evolutionary psychology and why we select the partners we do.
“Disease and evidence of disease can play a big role in mate selection – previously any cues to disease would be a big turn-off. Now we can observe a shift in our psychology such that face masks are no longer acting as a contamination cue.”