Masking (personality)

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"Masking" is the act of voluntarily concealing one's true personality, as if behind a metaphorical, physical mask

In psychology and sociology, masking is the process in which an individual camouflages their natural personality or behavior to conform to social pressures, abuse, or harassment. Masking can be strongly influenced by environmental factors such as authoritative parents, rejection, and emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Masking can be a behavior individuals adopt subconsciously as coping mechanisms or a trauma response, or it can be a conscious behavior an individual adopts to fit in within perceived societal norms. Masking is interconnected with maintaining performative behavior within social structures and cultures.[1]


In theater, comedy, and tragedy masks are used to help the actors portray their emotions similar to how people in society wear a mask to portray emotions that are acceptable

Masking has existed since antiquity, with authors like Shakespeare referencing it in fiction long before masking was formally defined and studied within psychology.[2] Frantz Fanon is credited with defining masking in his 1957 Black Skin, White Masks, which describes masking behavior in race relations within the stratified post-war United States.[1][3] Fanon explains how African-Americans, especially those of low social capital, adopted certain behaviors to resemble white people as well as other behaviors intended to please whites and reinforce the white man's higher social status.[3]

The black man has two dimensions. One with his fellows, the other with the white man. That this self-division is a direct result of colonialist subjugation is beyond question.

— Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks, [3]

The term masking was used to describe the act of concealing disgust by Paul Ekman (1972) and Friesen (1969).[4] It was also thought of as a learned behavior. Developmental studies have shown that this ability begins as early as preschool and improves with age.[5] Masking is mostly used to conceal a negative emotion (usually sadness, frustration, and anger) with a positive emotion or indifferent affect.[4]


The social drivers of masking include social discrimination, cultural dominance, and violence. Elizabeth Radulski argues that masking is a cultural performance within Judith Butler's concept of performativity that helps individuals bypass cultural and structural barriers.[1]

Situational contexts[edit]

The causes of masking are highly contextual and situational. Masking may disguise emotions considered socially inappropriate within a situational context, such as anger, jealousy, or rage. Individuals may mask in certain social situations, such as job interviews or dates, or around people of different cultures, identities, or ethnicities.[4] Since different social situations require different performances, individuals often switch masks and exhibit different masking behaviors in different contexts. Code-switching, although associated more with linguistics, also refers to the process of changing one's masking behavior around different cultures in social and cultural anthropology.[6] Contextual factors including relationships with one's conversation partner, social capital (class) differences, location, and social setting are all reasons why an individual would express, suppress, or mask an emotion.[7]

There is a gendered disparity in masking behavior; studies show women mask negative emotions to a greater extent than men. According to psychologist Teresa Davis, this may be due to the greater social expectation for conformity placed on female gender roles, causing women to develop the skill to a greater extent than men during childhood socialization.[8]

Autistic masking[edit]

Autistic masking, also referred to as camouflaging, is the conscious or subconscious suppression of autistic behaviors or the compensation of difficulties in social interaction by autistic people with the goal of being perceived as neurotypical.[9][10] It is a learned coping strategy.[11][12]

Typical examples of autistic masking include the suppression of stimming and meltdowns, a common reaction to sensory overload.[11] To compensate difficulties in social interaction with neurotypical peers, autistic people might maintain eye contact despite discomfort, use rehearsed conversational scripts, or mirror the body language and tone of others.[9][10][11][13]

Masking requires an exceptional effort.[11][14] It is linked with adverse mental health outcomes such as stress,[15] autistic burnout,[10] anxiety and other psychological disorders,[15] loss of identity,[15] and suicidality.[10][15][16] Some studies find that compensation strategies are seen as contributing to leading a successful and satisfactory life.[9][17]


Little is known about the effects of masking one's negative emotions. In the workplace, masking leads to feelings of dissonance, insincerity, job dissatisfaction, emotional and physical exhaustion, and self-reported health problems.[18] Some have also reported experiencing somatic symptoms and harmful physiological and cognitive effects as a consequence.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Radulski, Elizabeth M. (2022). "Conceptualising Autistic Masking, Camouflaging, and Neurotypical Privilege: Towards a Minority Group Model of Neurodiversity". Human Development. 66 (2): 113–127. doi:10.1159/000524122. ISSN 0018-716X. S2CID 248864273.
  2. ^ Rippy, Marguerite Hailey, "All Our Othellos: Black Monsters and White Masks on the American Screen," Spectacular Shakespeare: Critical Theory and Popular Cinema (2002). Google Books. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.
  3. ^ a b c Fanon, Frantz (1967). Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press. pp. 45–52. ISBN 0802150845.
  4. ^ a b c d De Gere, Dawn (2008). "The face of masking: Examining central tendencies and between-person variability in display management and display rule". ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.
  5. ^ Cole, Pamela (Dec 1986). "Children's Spontaneous Control of Facial Expression". Child Development. 57 (6): 1309–1321. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1986.tb00459.x.
  6. ^ Pountney, Laura & Marić, Tomislav (2015). Introducing Anthropology: What Makes Us Human? (1st ed.). Wiley. ISBN 9780745699783.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Malchiodi, Cathy. "The Healing Arts". Psychology Today.
  8. ^ Davis, Teresa (1995). "Gender Differences in Masking Negative Emotions: Ability or Motivation?". Developmental Psychology. 31 (4): 660–667. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.31.4.660.
  9. ^ a b c Petrolini, Valentina; Rodríguez-Armendariz, Ekaine; Vicente, Agustín (2023). "Autistic camouflaging across the spectrum". New Ideas in Psychology. 68: 100992. doi:10.1016/j.newideapsych.2022.100992. hdl:10810/59712. S2CID 253316582.
  10. ^ a b c d Pearson, Amy; Rose, Kieran (2021). "A Conceptual Analysis of Autistic Masking: Understanding the Narrative of Stigma and the Illusion of Choice". Autism in Adulthood. 3 (1): 52–60. doi:10.1089/aut.2020.0043. PMC 8992880. PMID 36601266.
  11. ^ a b c d Hull, Laura; Petrides, K. V.; Allison, Carrie; Smith, Paula; Baron-Cohen, Simon; Lai, Meng-Chuan; Mandy, William (2017). ""Putting on My Best Normal": Social Camouflaging in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 47 (8): 2519–2534. doi:10.1007/s10803-017-3166-5. PMC 5509825. PMID 28527095.
  12. ^ Lawson, Wenn B. (2020). "Adaptive Morphing and Coping with Social Threat in Autism: An Autistic Perspective". Journal of Intellectual Disability - Diagnosis and Treatment. 8 (3): 519–526. doi:10.6000/2292-2598.2020.08.03.29. S2CID 224896658.
  13. ^ Hull, Laura; Petrides, K. V.; Mandy, William (2020-12-01). "The Female Autism Phenotype and Camouflaging: a Narrative Review". Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 7 (4): 306–317. doi:10.1007/s40489-020-00197-9. S2CID 256402443.
  14. ^ "6A02 Autism spectrum disorder". ICD-11 for Mortality and Morbidity Statistics. Retrieved 2023-05-05. Some individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are capable of functioning adequately by making an exceptional effort to compensate for their symptoms during childhood, adolescence or adulthood. Such sustained effort, which may be more typical of affected females, can have a deleterious impact on mental health and well-being.
  15. ^ a b c d Radulski, Elizabeth M. (2022). "Conceptualising Autistic Masking, Camouflaging, and Neurotypical Privilege: Towards a Minority Group Model of Neurodiversity". Human Development. 66 (2): 113–127. doi:10.1159/000524122. S2CID 248864273.
  16. ^ Cassidy, Sarah; Bradley, Louise; Shaw, Rebecca; Baron-Cohen, Simon (2018). "Risk markers for suicidality in autistic adults". Molecular Autism. 9 (1): 42. doi:10.1186/s13229-018-0226-4. PMC 6069847. PMID 30083306.
  17. ^ Livingston, Lucy Anne; Shah, Punit; Happé, Francesca (2019). "Compensatory strategies below the behavioural surface in autism: a qualitative study". The Lancet Psychiatry. 6 (9): 766–777. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(19)30224-x. PMC 6706698. PMID 31350208.
  18. ^ Fisher, Cynthia; Neal Ashkanasy (2000). "The Emerging Role of Emotions in Work Life: An introduction" (PDF). Journal of Organizational Behavior. 21 (2): 123–129. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-1379(200003)21:2<123::AID-JOB33>3.0.CO;2-8.

Further reading[edit]