The Psychology Behind Why Some People Wear Face Masks – And Others Don't

Natasha Hinde

Face masks are quite divisive. When you look at photos of people hitting the beach, rushing to stores or taking buses all over the world where masks are mandatory, there’s a split of those who wear them – and those who don’t.

A YouGov poll from June suggests more people aren’t wearing them than are. It found under a quarter (21%) of Brits wear a mask or cover when out in public. We’re less likely to wear them than many other countries, too – only those in Scandinavia and Australia are less likely to wear masks than Brits, the poll found.

It’s a topic that needs exploring, perhaps, as research suggests a lockdown on its own won’t be enough to stop a second wave of coronavirus. Researchers believe the widespread use of face masks, in addition to lockdown and social distancing, is key to keeping the reproduction rate below 1. 

So why are some people happy to wear face masks, but others aren’t? We asked psychologists. 

Physical (dis)comfort

Professor Tony Cassidy, an expert in child and family health psychology at Ulster University, believes comfort – or rather, discomfort – is a key factor. Some might have a mask that fits comfortably, but, he tells HuffPost UK, “masks can be too tight or loose and they can cause sweating or even difficulty breathing”.

This means anyone who is claustrophobic or maskaphobic will be unable to tolerate masks or face coverings. “Maskaphobia [a fear of masks] is surprisingly common among children,” he adds. 

Feeling self-conscious

A YouGov survey in partnership with Imperial College London, conducted in May, looked at what was putting people off wearing masks. Of those who didn’t wear one, the vast majority (76%) said it was due to concerns about feeling uncomfortable – as Prof Cassidy mentioned above.

But many people also felt self conscious (52%), silly (52%) and embarrassed (47%) about wearing a mask. 

Not being able to communicate

Masks, or face covers, can also be quite intrusive – “eating an ice...

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