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Face masks increase compliance with physical distancing recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic

Author

Listed:
  • Gyula Seres

    (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

  • Anna Helen Balleyer

    (University of Groningen)

  • Nicola Cerutti

    (Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change)

  • Anastasia Danilov

    (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
    Einstein Center Digital Future)

  • Jana Friedrichsen

    (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
    WZB Berlin Social Science Center
    Free University of Berlin
    DIW)

  • Yiming Liu

    (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
    WZB Berlin Social Science Center)

  • Müge Süer

    (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Abstract

Governments across the world have implemented restrictive policies to slow the spread of COVID-19. Recommended face mask use has been a controversially discussed policy, among others, due to potential adverse effects on physical distancing. Using a randomized field experiment (N = 300), we show that individuals kept a significantly larger distance from someone wearing a face mask than from an unmasked person during the early days of the pandemic. According to an additional survey experiment (N = 456) conducted at the time, masked individuals were not perceived as being more infectious than unmasked ones, but they were believed to prefer more distancing. This result suggests that wearing a mask served as a social signal that led others to increase the distance they kept. Our findings provide evidence against the claim that mask use creates a false sense of security that would negatively affect physical distancing. Furthermore, our results suggest that behavior has informational content that may be affected by policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Gyula Seres & Anna Helen Balleyer & Nicola Cerutti & Anastasia Danilov & Jana Friedrichsen & Yiming Liu & Müge Süer, 2021. "Face masks increase compliance with physical distancing recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic," Journal of the Economic Science Association, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 7(2), pages 139-158, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:jesaex:v:7:y:2021:i:2:d:10.1007_s40881-021-00108-6
    DOI: 10.1007/s40881-021-00108-6
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    Cited by:

    1. Kovacs, Roxanne & Dunaiski, Maurice & Tukiainen, Janne, 2020. "Compulsory face mask policies do not affect community mobility in Germany," EconStor Preprints 218945, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics.
    2. Seres, Gyula & Balleyer, Anna & Cerutti, Nicola & Friedrichsen, Jana & Süer, Müge, 2021. "Face Mask Use and Physical Distancing Before and After Mandatory Masking: No Evidence on Risk Compensation in Public Waiting Lines," Rationality and Competition Discussion Paper Series 300, CRC TRR 190 Rationality and Competition.
    3. Seres, Gyula & Balleyer, Anna & Cerutti, Nicola & Friedrichsen, Jana & Süer, Müge, 2021. "Face mask use and physical distancing before and after mandatory masking: No evidence on risk compensation in public waiting lines," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 192(C), pages 765-781.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    COVID-19; Health policy; Face masks; Risk compensation; Social signaling; Field experiment;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D9 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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