The Psychology of Wearing Face Masks in Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic

14 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2020 Last revised: 10 Aug 2020

See all articles by Claus-Christian Carbon

Claus-Christian Carbon

Department of General Psychology and Methodology; Geomedi University

Date Written: April 24, 2020


Background: Wearing face masks in times of COVID-19 is one of the essential keystones for effectively decreasing the rate of new infections and thus, for mitigating the negative consequences for individuals as well as the society. Acceptance for wearing masks is still low in Europe—many people just feel strange when wearing masks because others do not wear them. This induces a severe problem for imposing obligations of wearing masks and so for keeping the pandemic at bay.

Methods: Eighty-six participants had to assess how strange they felt when wearing a face mask while being exposed to displays of varying numbers of mask wearers. Three different types of face masks were shown: simple surgery masks, FFP2 masks and loop scarfs.

Findings: The mere exposure to social groups wearing masks substantially reduced the strange feeling of wearing a mask. The higher the frequency of people wearing masks in the displayed social group, the less strange participants felt about themselves. This effect of a descriptive social norm was particularly effective when people saw others wearing less intrusive masks, here, simple surgery masks.

Interpretation: The more people use masks, the less strange it feels for the people to wear masks and so the higher the acceptance for using them in a sustainable way. This assists to efficiently and effectively reduce the risk of infecting others.

Funding. None

Note: Funding: There was no specific funding available for this research.

Conflict of Interest: We declare no competing interests.

Ethical Approval: The general study design (psychophysical testing) was given ethical approval by the local ethics committee of the University of Bamberg.

Keywords: COVID-19, virus, face masks, acceptance, psychology, pandemic

Suggested Citation

Carbon, Claus-Christian, The Psychology of Wearing Face Masks in Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic (April 24, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Claus-Christian Carbon (Contact Author)

Department of General Psychology and Methodology ( email )

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