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Liz Foote Maui Jun 3, 2020 1:58 am

As someone who’s had an N-95 mask in my carry on flight kit for years (alongside my spray bottle of 70% rubbing alcohol…), I have been really interested in following all the messaging surrounding mask wearing from the very beginning. I had never actually busted out the mask to wear, but I had it in case someone sat next to me on a long haul flight who was coughing up a lung (or if I was that person…). I even had a backup surgical mask I got from Kaiser in a ziplock in case I needed to give it to someone on a flight. I’m not gonna lie, this was mostly to attempt to protect *myself* from the germs, I was mostly travelling for school or conferences and didn’t want to get sick for those. But that was all in the “before times.”

What I find fascinating is how so much of the early messaging about masks was confusing and conflicting, and I wonder if that has affected the public’s subsequent acceptance of masks, or at least a subset of the public, maybe a different segment from those who flat out refuse to wear a mask due to the (unfortunate) recent politicization of it. The earliest messaging around coronavirus was that wearing a mask isn’t about protecting ourselves, it’s about protecting others, and that masks didn’t really protect the wearer anyway (and of course that healthcare workers needed them in the face of shortages). However I also saw messaging that masks like N-95 and N-99 *do* protect the wearer, but with a lot of caveats indicating that won’t hold true if you’re not a professional who’s had it properly fitted and knows how to use it right. There were also various studies that showed the efficacy (or lack thereof) of the cloth masks in protecting oneself as well as others, and these didn’t all match up in their conclusions either. I saw this NYT opinion piece from mid-March, “Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired” that articulated some of the confusion surrounding all the mixed messages. This article in Five Thirty Eight from early April covers some of those themes as well.

Since then it seems the pro-social messaging around mask wearing has been at the forefront, and I came across a great resource discussing how we can shift social norms to promote this behavior. I am wondering what examples people have seen out there, and if there are any studies specifically focusing on mask wearing and social norms during coronavirus times. I saw a tweet about a survey on why people who aren’t wearing masks choose not to (but I lost track of it…), but I haven’t seen anything about studies on prosocial messaging, or social norm engineering specifically related to mask wearing behavioral outcomes. I know it’s early, but I’m seeing a bunch of general behavioral science research coming out these days in the form of pre-prints and some published peer-reviewed papers as well, so I thought I’d ask this community!