The increasing use of face coverings as a defense against COVID-19 creates social norms that encourage more people to cover their faces, according to a new study co-authored by Yale researchers. public.

The study, published October 11 in the journal PLOS One, is based on two survey-based experiments conducted in the United States and Italy, countries that have experienced severe COVID-19 outbreaks. It found evidence that, in both countries, as the number of people wearing masks increases, it creates a self-reinforcing cycle that drives behavior in others. According to the study, it doesn’t make people “ride freely” by not wearing a face covering while enjoying the protection afforded to people wearing masks in public places.

Scott E. Bokemper, an associate research scientist at the Yale Institute for Social and Policy Studies and the Center for American Politics, and lead author of the paper. “People tend to wear masks more and encourage others to do the same, when mask wearing is widespread. Importantly, we found no evidence that widespread mask-wearing reduces people’s willingness to wear masks or requires others to wear them properly.

Of course, we often observe some communities wearing masks more than others, which suggests explanations based on social norms,” he added. “But the experimental design of this study allowed us to rule out the possibility that those patterns arose for other reasons, such as people in different communities having different beliefs about the effectiveness of this study. masks or fears about COVID-19.”

Research also shows that, in the United States, public health campaigns emphasizing the use of face coverings to protect others are likely to be more effective than calls highlighting how masks protect others. wear.

The study involved a collaboration between researchers from across Yale with colleagues from Columbia University and institutions in Italy and Switzerland. The research team includes scholars and faculty from Yale’s School of Medicine, the School of Public Health, the School of Nursing, the Department of Political Science, and the Institute for Global Health.

The researchers conducted vignette-based survey experiments conducted in the United States from October 1 to October 22, 2020, and in Italy from October 22 to November 8, 2020. At that time, the United States did not have a nationwide mask. mandate while Italy did. The US and Italian experiments had samples of 3,100 and 2,659 respondents, respectively.

Initially, respondents were asked how often they wore masks and how often they saw others in their community doing so. Next, they were randomly assigned to read a text explaining how the mask protects the wearer or others. A control group was presented with information unrelated to concealment.

Participants read three presentations: one about withdrawing money at an ATM, another about walking in a public park, and a third about an indoor meeting in their neighborhood. The behavior of the people depicted in the vignette is random so that almost everyone or very few people wear the mask.

In each situation, respondents were asked what they would do if they forgot their mask or if they encountered someone wearing a face covering improperly. They were presented with four options: continue operating as usual; stay active but keep your distance from others; abandon the activity; either get their own mask or ask someone else to wear their mask properly. They were also asked to read the scenarios as an unaffected third party and report their assessment of the behavior described.

The test shows that in situations where everyone, or nearly everyone, is wearing a mask, the likelihood that respondents will take back their own mask increases by 32% in respondents. in the US and 27% in Italian respondents. It also increased the likelihood of respondents asking an individual to adjust their mask for a snug fit by 26% and 29.4%, respectively, in the US and Italian experiments. Overall, the presence of people wearing masks made respondents more willing to take masks or ask others to adjust their masks in all situations in the United States as well as in meeting scenarios. and ATMs in Italy.

Gregory A. Huber, Forst Family Professor of Political Science in the Yale Department of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study, said. “Instead, it makes people more likely to conform to social norms by wearing a mask or intervening when meeting someone with a mask sliding down their nose. One policy implication of our work is that mask wearing may exist in communities where it is widely accepted without government policy mandating face coverings. “

Provide information on how face coverings protect the wearer from affecting people’s behavior regarding masks in both countries. However, the message about the effectiveness of masks in protecting others has resulted in a 10.3% increase in US respondents’ willingness to take back face coverings in experimental situations and willingness to encourage others wearing masks correctly increased by 13.6%. In the Italian experiment, the effect of messaging on protecting others was not statistically significant, according to the study.

The study’s other coauthors are Amyn A. Malif, Kathryn Willebrand and Saad B. Omer – all from Yale – and Maria Cucciniello, Tiziano Rotesi, Paolo Pin, Elliot Paintsil and Alessia Melegaro.

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