The World Health Organization has advised the public to wear face masks as part of the comprehensive strategy of measures to save lives and suppress the transmission of Covid-19. There are even countries that mandated all residents to wear face masks outdoors and in any indoor public space. Yet, some people still refuse to put on the face-covering when they leave their homes, disregarding the rules in their local area.
The psychology behind why people refuse to wear face masks
Cranfield University’s Senior Lecturer Dr. Robby Allen, whose areas of research focus on social psychology, explains that the reason why some don’t always follow the sensible advice is that they wanted to reclaim their sense of freedom when they felt it is being taken away from them. He refers to it as the reactance theory. Dr. Allen said this is not a new phenomenon because in the 1960s, psychologist Jack Brehm worked on said theory.
The Reactance Theory
In psychology, reactance is an unpleasant motivational reaction to offers, persons, regulations, or rules that eliminate or threaten certain behavioral freedoms. The Reactance Theory establishes that everyone has behavioral freedom and we will usually do the exact opposite of what we're told to do. For instance, the dangers of being overweight, smoking, or excessive alcohol consumption are known to people. These are largely preventable and there were even successful campaigns that helped reduce the harmful behavior. Yet, there are still people who disregard the medical advice and instead do the complete opposite, leading to deaths.
Dr. Allen went on to say that the level of reactance is positively linked to the importance of the threatened freedom as well. This is why many are willing to obey the rules or medical advice of the state and some challenge the authority and the expertise. People who are more reactant will resist rules and regulations more actively. Thus, they become self-righteous in the hope of autonomy and they often display anger in desire for it.
Competing messages confused the public
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a recommendation advising everyone to wear a face mask but there was some confusion as in the early days of Covid-19, The CDC itself said that healthy people need not wear face masks. It also did not help that President Trump himself and other cabinet members prefer not to wear a face mask, reports Health. Per the CDC, children below 2 years old or anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove their face masks without assistance should not wear face coverings.
The President of UK’s Royal Society, a Fellowship of the world’s most eminent scientists and is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, has also recently urged UK residents to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Psychiatrist Gayani DeSilva, MD said that the oppositional messages from people of authority, such as government officials, and the media may be making people unsure whether they should wear a mask or not. The recommendation loses its credibility when it is being presented as a fact one day but is described differently the next day. Contrarily, the credibility of messages increases when opinion and data are presented with factual backing. She pointed out that adults do not like it when they are told to do things without knowing the reasons behind it.
“When it seems like there is a menu of options out there, naturally you will choose the thing that seems most appealing to you,” New York-based psychiatrist Margaret Seide, MD explains. She agreed that many people will feel that wearing a face mask is like an imposition on them and it would make them feel uncomfortable.
Mask-refusers criticized social media
Fitness and medical magazine Health added that some mask-refusers in the US are being criticized on social media. San Diego resident Amber Lynn Gilles posted on Facebook about a barista in Starbucks who refused to serve her because she was not wearing a face mask per state and local rules. A woman from Florida also stood up at the Palm Beach County Commissioners meeting and declared, “Things gotta breathe.” She mentioned how she doesn’t wear a mask for the same reason that she doesn’t wear underwear. Her comment was met with some cheers and laughter but for others following the rules, the comment can be infuriating.
Dr. DeSilva said that it’s natural for faithful mask wears to get angry when they see people not following the rules. It can create fear for them, leading to anger and resentment, because they believe that safety will be greatly improved by wearing the coverings.
Face mask market
As of March 2020, market intelligence platform Market Study Report, LLC estimated that the worldwide face mask market may surpass $21.2 billion by 2026. The growth is fueled by the expanding demand for face masks across different sectors as they serve as an important component for every industry in terms of providing security and safety. Face masks are abundantly used in the industrial and medical sectors. In the healthcare sector, different types of face masks are used, including hospital masks, veterinary masks, and dental masks. In other sectors, the industrial mask is more in demand.
Popular market players in the global face mask market include Uvex, KOWA, McKesson, 3M, and Honeywell. 3M is recognized as the largest manufacturer of face masks.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an intergovernmental economic organization founded to stimulate economic progress and world trade, meanwhile shares that China was the main producer of face masks at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic but the health crisis still caused a dramatic shortage in the supply of mask. Not to mention that mask production involves various types of input. The assembly of its different parts is a sophisticated process from raw materials to the assembly line. Then, there’s also sterilization and testing and packaging before they are distributed. To address the shortages, many countries introduced restrictions on the export of masks.
In 2017, China’s share of exports of face masks was at 41%. It was followed by the United States (18%), Germany, (7%), India (3%), Mexico (3%), Vietnam (2%), France (2%), and the rest of the world (24%). This year, OECD highlighted how no country can meet the increasing demand for face masks alone. Global production and trade have a significant role in addressing the current shortage.
The Covid-19 pandemic is not yet over. While not wearing a face mask puts a person in control, we must become team players in the global fight to end the pandemic.