Research debunks issues that face overlaying may intrude with social distancing

United Kingdom
Wearing face masks can affect attitudes towards social distancing, a new study shows. According to a team of behavioral researchers from Warwick Business School, people felt comfortable sitting or standing closer to others with a mask on.

They also stated that they would keep a closer distance from others who wore masks.

Those who believed face masks were effective in preventing the spread of Covid-19 were more likely to relax the distance when they or the other person wore a mask.

This could make it harder to restore social distancing measures if they have to help fight the virus in the event of a second wave of falls.

The results will be revealed in a new pre-print article, Risk Compensation During Covid-19: The Impact of Face Mask Use on Social Distancing.

Ashley Luckman, Research Associate at Warwick Business School and lead author of the study, said, “Our results appear to be a classic case of risk compensation.

“Wearing masks reduces the overall risk of the spread of Covid-19, so people feel safer and more willing to take other risks, such as: B. To reduce the physical distance between them and others.

"If the government is aiming to minimize transmission of the virus, its policies must be clear enough to prevent this compromise and stress that masks are not an alternative to social distancing."

The researchers showed 800 participants in the UK pictures of people sitting, standing or walking and asked them how close they would be willing to stand in different scenarios.

This included indoor and outdoor settings and whether both people, only one or neither, were wearing a mask.

In either scenario, people were more likely to tolerate decreased distance when they or the other person wore a mask. On average, participants with a mask felt comfortable standing 1.8 meters away from another person. Without a mask, they preferred to stay more than two meters apart.

This contradicted expectations that people would politely keep a greater distance from others who were wearing masks.

Those with the strongest conviction that masks prevented them from catching Covid-19 were willing to stand closer to others if they wore masks, while those who believed they were at greatest risk were hospitalized for the virus rather kept a greater distance.

Daniel Read, Professor of Behavioral Science at Warwick Business School, said, “Our findings may be particularly relevant in countries where mask use is now high but social distancing guidelines have been relaxed.

“If countries need to return to greater physical distancing due to a second wave of cases, it may be more difficult to implement than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, when mask use was low.

"We need more evidence to determine at what point the risks of reducing physical distance outweigh the benefits of wearing a mask.

"Clearly, the biggest benefit comes from using masks as a complement to social distancing, rather than replacing it."

• The paper Risk Compensation During COVID-19: The Influence of Face Mask Use on Social Distancing was reviewed by Dr. Ashley Luckman, Dr. Hossam Zeitoun, Professor Andrea Isoni, Professor Graham Loomes, Professor Ivo Vlaev, Professor Nattavudh Powdthavee and Dr. Professor Daniel Read, all members of the Warwick Business School's Behavioral Science Group.

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