The Impact of Public Health Messaging and Personal Experience on the Acceptance of Mask Wearing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Face coverings have been shown to slow the spread of COVID-19, yet their use is not universal and remains controversial in the United States. Designing effective nudges for widespread adoption is important when federal mandates are politically or legally infeasible. We report the results from a survey experiment in which subjects were exposed to one of three video messages from President Trump, and then indicated their preference for wearing a mask. In the first video, the President simply recited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. In the second, the President additionally emphasized that wearing a mask is optional. In the third video, the President added that he will not personally wear a mask. We find that exposure to presidential messages can increase the stated likelihood of wearing a mask—particularly among the President’s supporters. We also explore experiential effects of COVID-19, and find that people (especially supporters of the President) are more likely to support wearing a mask if they know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. These results offer guidance to policy makers and practitioners interested in understanding the factors that influence viral risk mitigation strategies.


This article was originally published in Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, volume 187, in 2021.

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