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


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.

Journal of the Economic Science Association