A study carried out by psychologists from the Warwick Business School in the UK has found that the wearing of face masks significantly increases carelessness where personal hygiene is concerned and causes people to basically ignore social distancing.
The study of 800 people found that they are lulled into a false sense of security when wearing a face mask, making them much more likely to dismiss other, better ways of countering the spread of coronavirus.
The psychologists noted that people were more relaxed and comfortable sitting or standing in groups, so long as they had a mask on, and that individuals start to disregard keeping their distance from others who are also wearing face masks.
The research also noted that these effects were more pronounced among people who believe that masks are effective against the spread of the virus.
“Our findings appear to be a classic case of risk compensation,” noted cognitive psychologist Ashley Luckman, one of the researchers, in comments to the Daily Mail.
When wearing masks, “people feel safer and are more willing to take other risks, such as decreasing the physical distance between them and others,” added Luckman.
“If the Government’s aim is to minimise transmission of the virus, its guidelines must be clear enough to prevent this trade-off, emphasising that masks are not an alternative to social distancing,” Luckman urged.
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Another researcher, behavioural scientist Daniel Read, added “If countries need to return to greater levels of physical distancing due to a second wave of cases, that may be harder to implement than it was when mask use was low at the start of the pandemic.”
“We need more evidence to determine at what point the risks of reducing physical distance outweigh the benefits of wearing a mask,” he added.
The findings support the warnings of Sweden’s top expert on the coronavirus, who has warned that encouraging people to wear face masks is “very dangerous” because it gives a false sense of security but does not effectively stem the spread of the virus.
“It is very dangerous to believe face masks would change the game when it comes to COVID-19,” said Anders Tengell, who has overseen Sweden’s response to the pandemic while resisting any form of lockdown or mask mandate.
“To start with having face masks and then think[ing] you can crowd your buses or your shopping malls — that’s definitely a mistake,” Tengell has emphasised.
“The findings that have been produced through face masks are astonishingly weak, even though so many people around the world wear them,” Tengell has urged.
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