Seres, G., Balleyer, A.H., Cerutti, N., Danilov, A., Friedrichsen, J., Liu, Y., Süer, M.

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

in Journal of the Economic Science Association, 13.11.2021

Peer Review , Applied Sustainability Sciences

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.