Gloved hands holding face masks
(Photo by Vladimir Smirnov/TASS via Getty Images.)

Wearing a Mask: The Message That May Work for Some People

MUNCIE, Ind.–A $1,000 fine for the Indianapolis Speedrome was levied by the Marion County Health Dept., after pictures of a huge crowd, with few people wearing masks, became public. People at the Sturgis bike rally were also shown not wearing masks. A new study from Ball State showed that people are more likely to wear masks if the messaging more about community health and not just their own.

“In a series of online surveys we randomly gave people one version of that message or the other and ask questions about how compelling they were,” said Prof. Andy Luttrell, assistant professor of Psychological Science. The study is called “Moral Persuasion for Social Distancing Adherence”.

LISTEN: Prof. Andy Luttrell discusses the message about masks.

Luttrell co-authored the study, along with psychology professor Richard Petty, of Ohio State.

He said people who tended to think of public health as a moral issue were most likely to respond that they would distance or wear a mask.

“Those messages about altruism, about helping your community, doing your part to protect other people, those ended up being relatively more compelling, on average,” said Luttrell.

The study did not attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of distancing or wearing masks, just how the messaging was received.

“These findings highlight two important lessons for encouraging people to practice social distancing in the midst of the pandemic,” Luttrell said. “First, they show the power of appealing to people’s interests in helping other people. Second, they show that health communication is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.”

He said for messages to be most effective, they need to appeal to peoples’ individual needs.

He said the next string of the study might address the kinds of messages that would appeal to people who are indifferent to whether masks might help them or others.

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