Description: Even if you have not seen the media coverage of how mask use is breaking out along political lines in the United States you have very likely had your own experience of being hesitant about wearing a mask when going to the grocery store or if you did wear one feeling a bit weird about it in ways that went beyond just having something on your face (think about it and admit it… it is true). Thinks about why that might be. Partly it is because we are being told by experts that masks that we wear will not do much to protect us from virus laden spray coming from others (sorry, that is a bit graphic). At the same time, we are told wearing a mask will protect others from OUR virus laden spray but, so what if we are not (believe we are not) sick? Won’t we know if we are sick? (well, no we may well not). So, what is the deal, the Psychology deal, with the wearing or not wearing of masks? Think of your theories might include and then read the article linked below to see what several psychologists have suggested.
Source: The Psychology behind why some people won’t wear masks, Scottie Andrew, Health, CNN.
Date: May 6, 2020
Yes of course there is some uncertainty as to just how effective masks are at blocking Covid-19 infection even leaving aside the question of who is protecting who by wearing a mask. But that presumes that we are only reflecting and acting on the basis of slow or System 2 thinking (Google Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow). However, the fact is that when we are stressed and uncertain, as opposed to scientifically curious and uncertain, we use Fast or System 1 thinking. Fast thinking has powerful adaptive characteristics as it involves automated, reactive responding based on past experience or on previously established social/experiential norms. If you encounter a snarling dog, or a bear, in the woods you do best to slowly back away or to run to the nearest safe location. You would not likely do so well if you decided to reason through exactly what type of dog or bear the threat seemed to be or to carefully and systematically review every account you can recall of what one should do in such situations in order to weigh out your best course of action. In such situations fast thinking has more survival value. The problem is that fast thinking trades not just on our own past experiences but on social or cultural meaning norms. In western cultural history who wears masks? … Bandits, outlaws, bank robbers, home invaders, evil villains in horror films or cartoons wear masks so we have an automatic distrust of people in masks as well as a reticence about putting one on ourselves and “going over to the dark side.” But those are social/cultural norms based on historical (past) vicarious and direct experiences. They do not apply universally and so are part of some of the racist and prejudicial verbal and sometimes physical attacks on mask wearing Asians linked also to fast thinking relating to the geographic origins of Covid-19. This despite the cultural fact that mask wearing in many Asian cultures is taken up quickly as part of the wearers’ concern and respect for those close to them and NOT as a self-protective measure… a different kind of fast thinking grounded in collectivistic cultural norms that we in the west have to turn on our slow thinking to appreciate. There are a multitude of ways in which the current social circumstances associated with Coronavirus outbreak have shifted, obscured or challenged our social markers of normality and that IS stressful. Unfortunately, that has also led to a lot of fast thinking based on social norm-based assumptions that may not actually apply to our current reality. For now, perhaps we would be better off if we wore a mask in public, practiced healthful distancing, and, when we have a moment, take a few deep breathes and find the cognitive space and capacity to engage in some slow thinking and then, maybe to relax for a bit …. that is what we need.
Questions for Discussion:
- What are some of our NON-health related issues with mask wearing?
- How might we help people to deal with some of these non-health related issues with masks (so more will wear them)?
- What are some other Covid-19 related social issues or areas that might make more sense if we examined the socio-cultural norms and assumptions that are involved and driving fast thinking responses?
References (Read Further):
Azar, O. H. (2004). What sustains social norms and how they evolve?: The case of tipping. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 54(1), 49-64. Link
World Health Organization. (2009). Changing cultural and social norms that support violence. Link
Shleifer, A. (2012). Psychologists at the gate: a review of Daniel Kahneman’s thinking, fast and slow. Journal of Economic Literature, 50(4), 1080-91. Link
Evans, J. S. B. (2008). Dual-processing accounts of reasoning, judgment, and social cognition. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 59, 255-278. Link
Evans, A. M., Dillon, K. D., & Rand, D. G. (2015). Fast but not intuitive, slow but not reflective: Decision conflict drives reaction times in social dilemmas. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(5), 951. Link