Studying in autumn 2020 during coronavirus

MDX academic discovers right-wing people 'less likely to wear COVID-19 face masks'

20/07/2020
Right-leaning people are also far more likely to agree that wearing a mask is ‘shameful’ and a ‘sign of weakness’

People who identify as right-wing politically are less inclined to wear face masks to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to research.

Right-leaning people are also far more likely to agree that wearing a mask is ‘not cool’, ‘shameful’ and a ‘sign of weakness’, the study found.

The research has been undertaken by Dr Valerio Capraro, a Senior Lecturer in Economics at Middlesex University, along with Hélène Barcelo, from the Mathematical Science Research Institute, Berkeley, USA.

In two research papers analysing people’s intention to wear face coverings, they found that right-leaning people are less inclined than left-leaning people to use face coverings.

"All the data together also shows that right-leaning people are more likely than left-leaning people to feel negative emotions when wearing a mask. Moreover, in the first paper, we found that telling people that the coronavirus is a threat to their community increases intentions to wear a face mask for right-leaning people but not for left-leaning people, " Dr Valerio Capraro, Senior Lecturer in Economics.

Participants were asked, on a scale from 0 strongly disagree to 10 strongly agree, about their intentions to wear a face mask outside the home, engaging in social activities and with people from another household.

The same participants were also asked for the best description of their political views on a scale of 1 Very Left Leaning to 7 Very Right Learning, with right-leaning people classed as strictly above four and left-leaning people classed as strictly below 4.

In the first study, which surveyed 2,459 people living in the USA using the crowdsourcing website Amazon Mechanical Turk, they found that the average for left-leaning respondents’ intentions to wear a face covering was 7.86 compared to 6.33 for right-leaning people.

They also found that right-leaning people were more likely to express negative emotions when wearing a mask, with an average of 3.45 compared to 2.47 for left-leaning people.

By negative emotions, the participants were asked if they would agree or disagree with statements ‘wearing a mask is not cool’, ‘wearing a mask is a sign of weakness’ and ‘wearing a mask is shameful’.

The second study, which surveyed 1,920 people living in the USA again using the crowdsourcing website Amazon Mechanical Turk, found that the average intentions to wear a face covering for right-leaning people was 5.55 compared to 7.74 for left leaning people.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Capraro said: “This study was conducted in the USA. However, looking at how politicians behave across Europe and the UK, I think it's fair to say that we are seeing a behaviour that is consistent with this data. In Italy, we see it very clearly, as Matteo Salvini is often pictured without a mask.

“In the UK, until very recently there were no pictures of Boris Johnson wearing a mask. He started wearing one when it became mandatory, exactly in line with our data.

“Our data show that right-wing leaning people intend to wear a face mask less than left-wing leaning people.

“Interestingly, this difference is particularly strong in US counties where wearing a face mask is not mandatory.

“In counties where wearing a face mask is mandatory, left-leaning people are still more likely than right-leaning people to wear a face mask, but the difference across the political divide is much smaller, and almost non-existent. In sum, making it mandatory to wear a face mask has a greater effect on right-leaning people, compared to left-leaning people, who wear a face mask relatively independently of whether it is mandatory or not.”

The first study, which focused on gender and has been widely covered the UK and US media, also found that men are less likely wear face masks than women and more inclined to see wearing one as ‘shameful’ and a ‘sign of weakness’.

The second study discovered people are much more likely to wear face masks if they rely on reasoning instead of emotion.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says governments should encourage people to wear non-medical, fabric masks, especially in settings where physical distancing of at least one metre is not possible -- such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments.

The WHO said the wearing of masks could provide "a barrier for potentially infectious droplets".

Wearing a face masks in shops and supermarkets in England will be compulsory from this Friday.

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