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Social Pressure, Altruism, Free-Riding, and Non-Compliance in Mask Wearing by U.S. Residents in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

29 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2021 Publication Status: Published

See all articles by Courtney Bir

Courtney Bir

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater - Department of Agricultural Economics

Nicole Widmar

Purdue University, Department of Agricultural Economics

Abstract

Human behavior, such as wearing a mask in public, affects the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic. A nationally representative survey of 1,198 U.S. residents was used to study demographics, perceptions, and stated beliefs of residents who indicated they believe masks have a role in society in response to COVID-19 but self-reported not wearing masks in at least one public place studied. Individuals who believed wearing masks protected others were more likely to report voluntarily wearing them, showing evidence of altruism. Perceiving social pressure negatively impacted the probability of voluntary mask wearing amongst those who believed masks have a role in society, suggesting social shaming won’t increase compliance among these individuals. Free-riding is one possible explanation for why an individual respondent may self-report belief that mask wearing has a role in society and simultaneously self-report not voluntarily wearing a mask in public locations. Alternatively, incomplete knowledge, confusion about the role of masks in controlling spread of COVID-19, or fatigue are all possible explanations for why adults who believe masks play a role demonstrate less than optimal compliance themselves with mask wearing. Promotion of altruism, rather than social shaming, is likely to increase mask wearing based on this analysis. Tactics to improve public health initiative compliance and participation may change throughout the duration of the pandemic and/or may differ in segments of the population. Increased understanding of human behavior as it relates to mask wearing can inform public health communications and construction of incentive-aligned messaging to improve public health-related behaviors and associated outcomes.

Suggested Citation

Bir, Courtney and Widmar, Nicole, Social Pressure, Altruism, Free-Riding, and Non-Compliance in Mask Wearing by U.S. Residents in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3779163 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3779163

Courtney Bir

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater - Department of Agricultural Economics ( email )

Stillwater, OK 74078-6026
United States
4057449813 (Phone)

Nicole Widmar (Contact Author)

Purdue University, Department of Agricultural Economics ( email )

West Lafayette, IN 47907-1145
United States

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