The psychology behind why so many people refuse to wear face masks

As coronavirus cases spike around the US, more and more states are requiring residents to wear face mask coverings while out in public. However, according to a recent Gallup Poll, some Americans are still feeling resistant when it comes to mask-wearing. 

The poll revealed 11% of Americans have not considered wearing a mask in the past week. While this is a relatively low percentage, it may still have an impact on the state of the pandemic. 

David Abrams, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at NYU School of Global Public Health, said some resistance to mask-wearing is to be expected, as everyone looks for their own sense of belonging in uncertain times. 

“People who don’t wear masks may see it as a sign of solidarity as if they are together making a stand against authority, while those who do wear masks likely see it ‘as an act of altruism and a way of helping each other out,’” Abrams said.

Additionally, the Gallup poll showed that resistance to wearing a mask may be somewhat divided by political party lines. 98 percent of Democrats reported wearing a mask in the past week, as opposed to only 66 percent of Republicans.

This may be, in part, due to the example set by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Both have refused to wear masks in public, and Trump has even bristled at the sight of people wearing face coverings or practicing social distancing in his presence. 

Medical experts tell us that, regardless of what is being seen by government leaders, wearing a mask in public is essential to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. 

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams reminded everyone on twitter that wearing a mask will allow us to reopen sooner. 

“Some feel face coverings infringe on their freedom of choice — but if more wear them, we’ll have MORE freedom to go out,” he tweeted. “Ultimately it is a choice we make, and I hope it’s made based on the best available/current science, and a desire to do all we can to help others and ourselves/our communities. Like vaccines, the more who participate, the greater the impact.”

Abrams acknowledged that it is difficult to accept the constant changes taking place, but it is necessary to follow these rules. 

“[Americans who choose not to wear masks] don’t want to admit that this is the new normal. They want the old America that they’re used to,” he said. “There’s a certain bravado of being angry and defying requirements to wear a mask.

There is good news. The Gallup poll did show mask usage overall is increasing. 

“The percentage of U.S. adults who say they have worn a mask in public in the past seven days rose from 51 percent in early April to the current 86% high point,” Gallup reported. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does recommend wearing a face mask anytime you leave the house. Here is how to wear a face mask correctly:

  • Wash your hands before putting on your face covering
  • Put it over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin
  • Try to fit it snugly against the sides of your face
  • Make sure you can breathe easily