Study: Culture influences the wearing of the mask


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Worldwide and in the United States, the percentage of people wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic has varied enormously. What explains this? A new co-authored study by an MIT faculty member finds that a public sense of “collectivism” clearly predicts the use of masks, adding a cultural and psychological perspective to the topic.

The study uses a series of data sets on the use of masks and public attitudes, along with well-established empirical indices of , to assess the impact of these cultural differences on this element of the pandemic response.

“Our data both in the United States and around the world shows that collectivism is an important and important predictor of whether people in a region wear masks or not,” says Jackson G. Lu, assistant professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a new article detailing the results.

Collectivism refers to the tendency to prioritize the needs of a group over the concerns of an individual, and social scientists have often worked to measure their presence among different populations. The researchers found that the culture of collectivism was a key driver of the use of masks, even after taking into account many other factors, such as political orientation, state policies, the severity of outbreaks of COVID-19 and more.

“In collectivist cultures, people see that wearing masks is not only a responsibility or a duty, but also a symbol of solidarity: that we are together and fighting this pandemic together,” Lu says.

The document “Collectivism predicts the use of the mask during COVID-19” appears today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors are Lu, who is Mitsui’s professor of professional development at MIT Sloan; Peter Jin, associate researcher at MIT Sloan; and Alexander S. English, a researcher in the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China.

To conduct the study, the researchers analyzed four data sets. The first, collected in July 2020, was a survey of a question about the use of masks in the United States, collected by The New York Times and research firm Dynata, which included 248,941 Americans in all 3,141 U.S. counties. The second data set was a survey of 16,737 Americans in the 50 U.S. states on the use of masks, from April to September 2020, conducted by YouGov and the Institute for Global Health Innovation .

Analyzing both data sets, the researchers examined the intensity of the use of masks related to collectivism measures in the 50 U.S. states. The collectivism of an American state can be classified based on the responses to surveys of representative samples of the population.

“Collectivism versus individualism is one of the most established cultural dimensions in psychology,” says Lu.

In analyzing the results, the researchers monitored a wide range of other factors that could influence the use of masks, including the severity of COVID-19 outbreaks in states, government policies, political affiliations to citizenship, , population density, per capita income, age and sex.

They found that the qualification of a collectivism of an American state is a strong and consistent predictor of the use of masks, whatever happens. For example, Hawaii has the highest level of collectivism in the United States and the second highest level of mask use (slightly behind Rhode Island). At the other end of the spectrum, a handful of Great Plains and Mountain West states have low collectivism scores and low levels of mask dress, including Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, and Kansas.

“The patterns of the two U.S. datasets are so strikingly similar, which made us trust the link between collectivism and the use of masks,” Lu says.

The researchers also used two global data sets to apply the same method to a set of countries. The first data set was based on the same 2020 survey conducted by YouGov and the Institute for Global Health Innovation, which this time generated data on the use of masks by 367,109 people from 29 countries and territories.

The second global data set is one that MIT researchers developed in collaboration with Facebook, creating a weighted survey on the use of masks that generated responses from 277,219 participants in 67 countries and territories.

In countries around the world, such as the US, the results were the same: the scores of collectivism again predict which countries used to have high levels of mask.

Research also uncovered other factors that influenced the wearing of the mask. For example, in the United States, party affiliation was also a strong predictor of the use of masks, more likely to be worn by Democrats. than Republicans.

Lu suggests that there are several types of future research that could be derived from the current study. On the one hand, the role of collectivism could be studied in other crises, such as forest fires or hurricanes. Beyond that, the authors suggest, it would be important to study whether or not the pandemic itself has affected the sense of collectivism or individualism that had previously been measured in U.S. countries and states. Both could be useful insights for public officials and policymakers, either to curb the current pandemic or save lives in the future.

“Understanding cultural differences not only provides information about the pandemic, but also helps the world prepare for future crises,” Lu says.

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More information:
Collectivism predicts the use of masks during COVID-19, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021). DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2021793118 ,

Citation: Study: Culture Influences Wearing Mask (2021, May 20) Retrieved May 20, 2021 at

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