UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Negative attitudes about facemasks during the COVID-19 pandemic : The dual importance of perceived ineffectiveness and psychological reactance Taylor, Steven, 1960-; Asmundson, Gordon J. G.


This study reports a comprehensive empirical investigation of the nature and correlates of anti-mask attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accumulating evidence underscores the importance of facemasks, as worn by the general public, in limiting the spread of infection. Accordingly, mask wearing has become increasingly mandatory in public places such as stores and on public transit. Although the public has been generally adherent to mask wearing, a small but vocal group of individuals refuse to wear masks. Anti-mask protest rallies have occurred in many places throughout the world, sometimes erupting violently. Few empirical studies have examined the relationship between anti-mask attitudes and mask non-adherence and little is known about how such attitudes relate to one another or other factors (e.g., non-adherence to social distancing, anti-vaccination attitudes). To investigate these issues, the present study surveyed 2,078 adults from the US and Canada. Consistent with other surveys, we found that most (84%) people wore masks because of COVID-19. The 16% who did not wear masks scored higher on most measures of negative attitudes towards masks. Network analyses indicated that negative attitudes about masks formed an intercorrelated network, with the central nodes in the network being (a) beliefs that masks are ineffective in preventing COVID-19, and (b) psychological reactance (PR; i.e., an aversion to being forced to wear masks). These central nodes served as links, connecting the network of anti-masks attitudes to negative attitudes toward SARSCoV2 vaccination, beliefs that the threat of COVID-19 has been exaggerated, disregard for social distancing, and political conservatism. Findings regarding PR are important because, theoretically, PR is likely to strengthen other anti-masks attitudes (e.g., beliefs that masks are ineffective) because people with strong PR react with anger and counter-arguments when their beliefs are challenged, thereby leading to a strengthening of their anti-mask beliefs. Implications for improving mask adherence are discussed.

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