Masked distress: The mediated effects of face masks on physical and emotional suffocation

Irene Razpurker-Apfeld, Nurit Tal-Or

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study explores the effects of bodily states on emotions based on embodied cognition theories of conceptual metaphor and feelings-as-information theory. Specifically, it investigates how physical suffocation induced by mask-wearing affects perceptions of emotional suffocation related to one's romantic relationship and financial situation. In this quantitative online experiment, we employed a convenience sampling method through a crowdsourcing platform. Adult participants (N = 180, 25 years or older and involved in a romantic relationship) were randomly assigned to three conditions: wearing COVID-19 masks properly, wearing masks on their chins, or not wearing masks. After completing a puzzle meant to prolong mask-wear, participants filled out digital questionnaires assessing their experiences of physical and psychological distress. The results supported our proposed mechanisms, revealing that increased feeling of physical suffocation while wearing masks properly, compared to the other conditions, was linked to heightened feelings of financial and romantic distress, supporting the conceptual metaphor account. This link was partially mediated by elevated state anxiety, aligning with the feelings-as-information theory. This study demonstrates how bodily experiences can impact emotional states, and highlights the complex interplay between everyday behaviours like mask-wearing and emotions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Psychology
Early online date4 Jun 2024
StateE-pub ahead of print - 4 Jun 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 International Union of Psychological Science.


  • Anxiety
  • COVID-19
  • Embodied cognition
  • Mask
  • Suffocation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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