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Face Masks Increase Compliance with Physical Distancing Recommendations during the COVID‑19 Pandemic

Aufsätze referiert extern - Web of Science

Gyula Seres, Anna Helen Balleyer, Nicola Cerutti, Anastasia Danilov, Jana Friedrichsen, Yiming Liu, Müge Süer

In: Journal of the Economic Science Association 7 (2021), 2, S. 139–158


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.

JEL-Classification: C93;D9;I12
Keywords: COVID-19, Health policy, Face masks, Risk compensation, Social signaling, Field experiment

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