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Face mask use and physical distancing before and after
mandatory masking: Evidence from public waiting lines
Gyula SeresAnna BalleyerNicola CeruttiJana Friedrichsen§
uge S¨uer
July 12, 2020
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of mandatory face mask usage
was accompanied by a heated debate. It was argued that community use of masks cre-
ates a false sense of security that could decrease social distancing, thus making matters
worse. We conducted a randomized field experiment in Berlin, Germany, to investigate
whether masks lead to decreases in distancing and whether this mask effect interacts
with the introduction of a mask mandate in Berlin. Joining lines in front of stores,
we measured the distance kept from the experimenter in two treatment conditions –
the experimenter wore a mask in one and no face covering in the other – both before
and after the introduction of mandatory mask use in stores. We find no evidence that
mandatory masking has a negative effect on distance keeping. To the contrary, in our
study, masks significantly increase distancing and the effect does not differ between the
two periods. Further, we find no evidence that the mask mandate affected distancing.
However, our results suggest that the relaxation of shop opening restrictions had a
negative effect on distancing.
Keywords: COVID-19; Face Masks; Social Distancing; Risk Compensation; Field Ex-
periment; Health Policy
JEL Codes: I12, D9, C93
1 Introduction
The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that quickly spread to almost all countries in the world
has – by the end of June 2020 – lead to more than ten million confirmed infections and
more than 500,000 deaths (CSSE, 2020; Dong et al., 2020). To address the imminent health
emergency, to make the growth rate of the virus sub-exponential (colloquially, to flatten the
curve), and to mitigate hospital overload, most countries implemented complete or partial
lockdown policies including stay-at-home orders, travel bans, social distancing, and also
emphasized personal precautions in terms of hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. While
the conjunction of these policies has been proven effective and death rates are believed
to have been substantially higher in their absence, it has also become clear that both the
uncontrolled pandemic and the successful lockdown measures have had severe consequences
for the economy and society (Fernando E. Alvarez, 2020; Thunstr¨om et al., 2020).
Corresponding author. Humboldt-Universit¨at zu Berlin.
University of Groningen
Berlin School of Economics and Law
§Humboldt-Universit¨at zu Berlin, WZB Berlin Social Science Center, and DIW Berlin
Humboldt-Universit¨at zu Berlin.
Given that SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks might remain a possibility for a long time, societies need
to develop alternatives to a strict lockdown that allow for a safe life with the virus even
though neither an effective treatment nor a vaccine is available. Mandated face mask use is
a non-pharmaceutical intervention that is potentially very potent in combating COVID-19
(van der Sande et al., 2008; Rengasamy et al., 2010; Suess et al., 2012; Saunders-Hastings
et al., 2017; Eikenberry et al., 2020; Mitze et al., 2020). However, health authorities and
politicians have been cautious in advising universal mask mandates with reference to a
potential backlash from an induced false sense of security (WHO, 2020; Synhetsstyrelsen,
2020; Norwegian Institute of Public Health, 2020). Such compensating behavior is found in
the context of road safety regulation, offsetting the expected positive effects from regulation
(Peltzman, 1975). Subsequently, although risk compensation is studied in the context of
HIV prevention (Eaton and Kalichman, 2007; Marcus et al., 2013; Wilson et al., 2014),
bicycle helmets (Adams and Hillman, 2001), and seat-belt laws (Houston and Richardson,
2007; Evans and Graham, 1991; Cohen and Einav, 2003), among others, there are mixed
results on the existence of risk compensatory behavior.
As robust evidence on the existence and extent of risk compensation in response to face
mask use is missing, citing it as an argument against the mandatory use of masks relies on
two implicit assumptions. First, risk compensation will actually happen in the context of
the current epidemic and in response to mask use. Second, risk compensation only matters
if its effect is larger than the presumably positive direct effects of a greater prevalence of
masks in the community that would follow from a mask mandate. Seres et al. (2020) run a
field experiment measuring the effect of face masks on distancing in outside waiting lines in
Berlin, Germany in April 2020. Their study provides evidence against risk compensation in a
context where masks were not mandatory. Subjects were observed to even stand further away
from an experimenter who was masked than from an unmasked one. Using an additional
survey, they show that this behavior might be triggered by second-order beliefs, meaning
that people expect individuals who wear a mask to prefer others to stay further away from
them. Seres et al. (2020) yield insights about behavioral effects of masks, but their results
cannot be easily extrapolated to a situation with a mask mandate. Therefore, we address
the question of how a mask mandate influences the effect of masks on distancing behavior.
Using the same methodology as Seres et al. (2020), we run a field experiment outside waiting
lines in Berlin before and after a mask mandate was put into place. We find that individuals
stand further away from someone wearing a mask than from an unmasked person both before
and after the introduction of the mask mandate. Thus, the mandate did not crowd out the
positive effect of the face mask observed under voluntary masking. While we observe more
people wearing masks themselves after the introduction of the mask mandate than before,
we also find that average distances to other persons are shorter after the mandate than
before. Using contextual data in the form of the number of open shops in the surrounding,
we argue that this effect is not driven by the mask mandate but by concurrent changes in
the perceived risk from the virus. This is in line with an array of studies showing that the
adoption of precautionary behavior against COVID-19 crucially depends on the perceived
risk of becoming severely ill from the virus (Ajzenman et al., 2020; Allcott et al., 2020;
Grossman et al., 2020; Harper et al., 2020; Larsen et al., 2020; Rosenfeld et al., 2020; Wise
et al., 2020).
Our results complement further evidence from Germany, Italy, and the US. Empirical studies
examine social distancing in terms of time spent outside and proximity during this period.
Kovacs et al. (2020) use location data from Germany to show that the introduction of face
mask mandates in Germany did not lead to a compensatory effect in individuals’ mobility
patterns in terms of time spent outside. In contrast to these, Yan et al. (2020) argue that US
Americans spent more time outside their homes after masks became mandatory in public
spaces. Their empirical strategy does not preclude that mobility would have changed in
this way also in the absence of masks. Another key dimension is observed distancing in
community settings. A very similar result to that of Seres et al. (2020) was obtained in a
field experiment in Italy: Marchiori (2020) shows that wearing a face mask can substantially
improve adherence with the physical distancing regulations on pavements both in the absence
of a mask mandate and after its introduction. Based on this body of evidence, a direct
behavioral backlash on distancing from making face masks mandatory appears unlikely. For
maximal support from the population, such mandates should be clearly communicated as
necessary and as an additional safety measure.1
The rest of this paper proceeds as follows: Section 2 provides the setup, including the local
progress of the epidemic, and provides a general introduction to the policy environment. Sec-
tion 3 describes the experimental design. Section 4 formally states the hypotheses. Section
5 provides the main results of this paper. Section 7 concludes with further interpretations
of the main results and a discussion.
2 Background
A face mask mandate was introduced in all German states toward the end of April and
coincided with the relaxation of other regulations. In Berlin, starting in mid-March 2020,
only supermarkets and stores selling basic necessities were allowed to open. Then, from
April 22, 2020 onward, small retail stores (<800m2) were allowed to reopen under certain
restrictions (e.g., limited number of customers). While masks had been previously dismissed
as an attractive policy option, the expectation of the increased movement of citizens and
potential crowding in cities as well as increasing public pressure, led to the introduction
of mandatory masking policies in all federal states with only slight variations regarding
the starting dates. The ob jective of these policies was to reduce the risk of contagion in
places that became increasingly frequented but where physical distance recommendations
are harder to uphold, such as shops and public transport. However, individuals may adjust
their precautions in other dimensions in response to such a mandate so that the net effect
is, a priori, not clear. Therefore, we follow up on Seres et al. (2020) with an identical field
experiment, conducted in Berlin after the introduction of compulsory masking, evaluating
the effect of masks and the interaction with other policy changes. The detailed timeline of
the experiment and the restrictions are stated in Table 1.
3 Experiment
3.1 Location
The field experiment took place in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic in Berlin, Germany.2
The first part of the data was collected before the face mask mandate and the second half
after the introduction of the mandate. During the first data collection period, acceptable
reasons to leave the place of residence were defined at the state level, limiting the mobility of
the experimenters. To comply with public health recommendations, the choice of stores was
made to avoid long commuting from the experimenters’ homes. Figure 1 shows the locations
of businesses visited. There was no overlap in the list of stores between experimenters,
therefore, only one of them visited each store in the sample. To better profit from the natural
experiment setting created by the mask mandate, in May, the experimenters revisited the
same stores as those in April. The store types, where observations took place, were previously
restricted to supermarkets, drug stores (except pharmacies), and post offices to observe a
sample representing the population visiting public areas. During the pandemic, lines in
front of businesses were frequent in Berlin, but irregular. Therefore, only the existing lines
at the moment of data collection could be utilized for our experiment. We address potential
1Settele and Shupe (2020) provide evidence from survey data that support for policies critically depends
on the information and perceptions that individuals hold.
2According to Robert Koch Institute, one of the central bodies for the safeguarding of public health
in Germany (, the state of Berlin had the seventh highest number of SARS-CoV-2
infections per 100,000 population of the 16 German states as of May 1, 2020, when the incidence of COVID-19
cases in Berlin was 157 per 100,000 inhabitants; close to the federal average 197 per 100,000 inhabitants.
14.03.2020 Beginning of Corona Related
22.03.2020 Tightest Restrictions in Place
Start: Data Collection 1 18.04.2020
20.04.2020 Retail <800m2Reopen
End: Data Collection 1 24.04.2020
27.04.2020 Mask Mandate in Public
29.04.2020 Mask Mandate in Shops
02-04.05.2020 Big Retails Reopen, Gatherings of
up to 50 People Allowed
Start: Data Collection 2 12.05.2020
15.05.2020 Restaurants and Cafes Reopen with
Limited Hours
End: Data Collection 2 20.05.2020
Table 1: Berlin COVID-19 Restrictions and Experiment Timeline
randomization concerns regarding store selection in Section 5.
3.2 Experimental Design
Our experiment has a 2 ×2 between-subject design with respect to using a mask and time
period. To study the effect of masks on distancing, we use a between-subject design with
randomized face covering. In the Mask treatment, the experimenter was wearing a mask,
whereas in the NoMask treatment, no face covering was used. To investigate whether the
treatment effect interacts with a set of policy changes implemented at the end of April 2020,
we ran the same design twice, once before and once after the introduction of a mask mandate
in Berlin.
Our experiment was carried out by experimenters who measured the distance between them-
selves and others in lines in front of businesses. Data was collected in two periods between
April 18-24 and May 12-20. In both periods, 60 observations each were recorded by four
experimenters, adding up to 240 in each period and 480 in total. The pre-registered exper-
imental protocol is in Appendix A.3
The experimenters are independent researchers, two women and two men, aged between
31 and 35, who participated voluntarily and are credited as co-authors of this paper. 4
3The pre-mandate data was used in Seres et al. (2020), which had five experimenters. In this paper, we
use data of four experimenters who participated in both measurement periods. This study was pre-registered
with five experimenters; however, one was unable to participate in the second period.
4Experimenters being co-authors of the study might raise questions regarding the conscious or unconscious
effects on outcomes. However, as stated before, our pre-mandate data was used in Seres et al. (2020) and
Figure 1: Map indicating the observation sites
Each recorded the observations individually in their own neighborhood. Two measures
were taken to reduce as much as possible potential noise from different appearances of the
experimenters. First, each member of the team used a white FFP2 respiratory protection
mask, which was the most easily accessible type of mask in pharmacies during the first
period of data collection.5Second, the dress-code was standardized to a pair of blue jeans
and a dark colored top (Balafoutas and Nikiforakis, 2012).
Each experimenter independently located a line outside a shop in their neighborhood and
determined an even number of observations to be collected there. The experimenter wore
a mask (treatment Mask) or not (treatment NoMask) based on the result of a coin toss.
Then, the experimenter joined the line, maintaining a distance of 150 cm from the previous
person, measured with a mobile device. While waiting for the subject, meaning the next
person arriving and joining the line behind the experimenter, she/he assumed a sideways po-
sition in the line, thus ensuring her/his face would be visible to the next person but avoiding
eye contact. Upon arrival of the subject, the experimenter measured the distance between
her/his own feet and the subject’s, subsequently left the line, and input the measured dis-
tance and demographic data of the subject into a previously prepared table. Particular
cases (e.g. groups of people, strollers) were uniformly measured according to the protocol
(Appendix A). The distance was recorded via a mobile augmented reality application, which
provides 1-centimeter precise measurements. No visual or audio recordings were taken to
comply with privacy laws. A measurement took about 5-20 seconds to complete. Distance
was only recorded if the subject assumed a steady position for the time of measurement
and it was clear for them where to stand. For groups, the measured subject was the per-
son closest to the experimenter. We made note of no case when a subject recognized the
measurement or reacted to it by moving away. Having completed the input of data, the
experimenter returned to the end of the line.
this study has been preregistered stating no expectations regarding the outcome. The post-mandate data
mirrors the findings of the first period. Thereby, we rule out potential concerns related to experimenter
influence on the outcome.
5An FFP2 mask is a mechanical filter respirator as defined by the EN 149 standard, similar to the N95
design. FFP2 and surgical masks are not visibly different and we do not expect that carrying out the
experiment with surgical masks would have altered the results.
At any store and period, an equal number of observations with and without a mask were
collected. At each visit, the experimenter used a coin toss to determine with which of the
two treatments to start.
The experimenters also collected information on the subjects’ demographic profile. In par-
ticular, subject’s age group, gender, the number of accompanying children and adults were
recorded as well as whether the subject was wearing a mask at the time of measurement.
Note that during the second round of data collection, i.e. after the introduction of the mask
mandate, all subjects presumably had a mask with them as a prerequisite to enter the store,
unlike before the mandate. However, no law mandated using the mask while waiting outside.
Additional controls for the setting include the length of the queue, store type and exact
location. In order to control for the impact of the store closure policy, we recorded the
number of businesses within a 50-meter radius around the location that were open at the
time of measurement during the second round of data collection in May that were legally
closed during the first round of data collection in April. This variable shows substantial
variance as it ranges from 0 to 6 in the May sample. As we argue above, changes in
distancing may also be influenced by the general perception about the epidemic. As a
measure of this factor, we gathered daily data from Google trends that shows the relatively
number of searches for the novel coronavirus in Berlin.6
4 Hypotheses
The study consists of two main observational periods, the first taking place before the exoge-
nous policy changes, including the introduction of mandatory mask wearing in stores, and
the second one afterwards. Each period has a balanced number of observations per treatment
group. The introduction of a mandate by the state creates a natural experiment setting and
lets us understand the impact of the policy by analyzing pre- and post-intervention periods.
As the mandate was brought into force at the same time as the aforementioned measures, it
is hard to isolate its pure effect. However, we believe that the mask mandate and relaxation
measures have different effects on our dependent variable, kept distance. From this point
on, the exogenous difference between periods is referred to as policy change and the different
policies are underlined separately when necessary.
In the pre-policy period, wearing a mask was voluntary; whereas during the post-policy,
all subjects had to carry a mask with them as they were expected to wear it in the store.
Therefore, we hypothesize that as masks became a common sight of the city in the second
observational period, a mask mandate would increase the general public awareness of the
health hazard. Based on the two-process theory of reasoning (Stanovich and West, 2000;
Kahneman, 2011), compliance with distancing requires mental effort. In our context, both
the mandate and seeing a masked experimenter may serve as a reminder inducing a conscious
decision-making process, System 2.7Thus, the mandate would not have a significant impact
on the subjects entering the line behind the masked experimenter, whereas it would increase
the distance kept by the subjects behind the experimenter without a mask by already trig-
gering their System 2 through the higher presence of masked people on streets. Keeping
the natural experiment setting and our expectations in mind, we formed and preregistered
3 hypotheses.8
Seres et al. (2020) use a survey to understand the mechanism behind the mask increasing
physical distancing and conclude that it might be the following: people tend to believe that
a person wearing a mask prefers others to keep a greater distance. This mechanism could
still be at play after the introduction of the mask mandate because our experiment takes
6The chosen keyword is “Coronavirus”, as it is most commonly called colloquially in the German-speaking
online community.
7System 1 is a cognitive process defined in the psychology literature as automatic, largely unconscious,
fast, and undemanding of computational capacity. In contrast, System 2 is demanding and relatively slow.
8For narrative purposes, the order and wording of hypotheses is different from that of the preregistered
place outdoors and masks are only obligatory in stores. Another explanation for a distance
increase in response to face masks could be a reminder effect: people seeing others wearing
masks may be reminded of the health risk from COVID-19 and, thereby, of the appropriate
measures to take to prevent an infection. Seres et al. (2020) find no evidence in this regard.
However, the introduction of the mask mandate required people joining lines to carry a
mask with them, led to an increase in general mask usage in the waiting line, and could
potentially create a reminder effect through the larger presence of masks. Put differently,
masks might work as a trigger activating System 2 cognition, thus leading people to keep
a greater distance just because they adjust their judgment based on the severeness of the
situation. Taking both mechanisms into consideration, the introduction of a mask mandate
may not change the distancing behavior of the subjects behind the masked experimenter. If
a mask still works as a respect signal, then they continue to signal the same. On the other
hand, if masks work as a general reminder, then the effect of this reminder would spread to
the entire population without affecting the behavior of the subjects joining the line behind
a person with a mask.
Hypothesis 1.A. Distance kept toward the masked experimenter in treatment Mask in
the waiting line does not change with the policy.
Hypothesis 1.B. Distance kept toward the unmasked experimenter in treatment NoMask
in the waiting line is greater after the policy change.
Unlike people behind the masked experimenter, based on the two-process theory, the man-
date can be expected to have a positive effect on the distancing behavior of people behind
a person without a mask. According to this explanation, the mandate itself as well as its
direct consequence of seeing masks more often on the streets as well as in the waiting line
could potentially increase the general public awareness regarding COVID-19-related risk and
mitigation measures. The heightened awareness may then induce subjects to increase their
precautions and, thus, their distancing.
Hypothesis 2. After the policy change, distance kept toward the experimenter in the waiting
line is the same in treatments Mask and NoMask, i.e., subjects keep the same distance
from the masked and unmasked experimenter.
As a consequence of hypotheses 1.A and 1.B, we expected the subjects in the post policy
sample to keep on average the same distance from the experimenter in both treatment condi-
tions. The convergence of distances in the two treatments is driven by the expectation that
the mandate might increase distancing for people behind a person without a mask but leave
unchanged the distances behind a person wearing a mask. A convergence in distances across
the two treatments could alternatively result if masks lose their informational value with the
introduction of the mandate but awareness is unchanged. If wearing a mask is no longer per-
ceived as signaling a preferred larger distance, people behind the masked experimenter might
keep a shorter distance after the mandate than before and on average the same as if standing
behind the unmasked experimenter. This explanation is not hypothesized separately as it
directly contrasts with Hypotheses 1.A and 1.B.
Hypothesis 3. After the policy change, subjects wearing a mask do not keep a greater
distance from the experimenter than unmasked subjects (treatment conditions Mask and
NoMask pooled).
Using the pre-mandate sample, Seres et al. (2020) conclude that subjects wearing a mask
keep a larger distance in general. However, they also argue that it might be due to a selection
effect. Therefore, the mask mandate is expected to increase the representation of those who
wear a mask in the line, creating a different selection compared to the pre-policy period.
Hence, distancing behavior of this post-policy sub-sample might resemble that of the rest of
the post-policy sample, therefore, we expect no difference in distancing behavior.
5 Empirical analysis
5.1 Sample Characteristics
The data set contains 480 observations. For descriptive statistics on subject characteristics,
see Table 2. Compared to the city’s age groups, our sample underrepresents 60+ population
(10.6% vs. 24.7%). This is not surprising due to the asymmetric effect of the disease on
elderly (Verity et al., 2020). However, considering that social distancing is crucial in public,
our study aims to measure the effect on people who leave their homes. Our sample is
representative in terms of gender according to a Chi-Square Goodness of Fit test (54.4%
vs. 50.8% in the population, χ2= 2.45, p = 0.117). Most subjects in our sample arrive
at the store alone, only 10.6% come with adult, and 6.1% with minor, companions. There
is a clear increase in mask use after the policy change as it soars from 17.1% pre-mandate
to 40.1% post-mandate. We also recorded the length of the line as the number of people
standing outside in front of the experimenter. The mean length is 5.63 individuals with a
standard deviation of 3.83.
Pre-Mandate Post-Mandate
Count NoMask Mask NoMask Mask P
Subject Without Mask 102 97 77 65 341
Subject With Mask 18 23 43 55 139
Accompanying Adult =0 107 105 108 109 429
Accompanying Adult =1 11 13 12 10 46
Accompanying Adult >1 2 2 0 1 5
Accompanying Child =0 111 112 113 116 451
Accompanying Child =1 7 7 7 4 25
Accompanying Child >1 2 2 0 0 4
Female Subject 61 65 65 70 261
Male Subject 59 55 55 50 219
Aged under 15 0 1 1 0 2
Aged between 15 and 25 13 19 14 15 61
Aged between 25 and 35 38 34 42 40 154
Aged between 35 and 45 35 29 33 33 130
Aged between 45 and 60 20 20 21 21 82
Aged above 60 14 17 9 11 51
Total 120 120 120 120 480
Table 2: Number of Subjects in different treatment conditions.
Notes: Values show the number of observations with the given characteristics for categorical variables.
Age groups and gender reflect the experimenters’ impressions and are not to be interpreted as point
estimates. Subjects are counted with a mask if they were wearing one at the time of measurement.
5.2 Estimation Strategy
Our analysis seeks to understand whether and how the introduction of a mask mandate
changes the physical distancing behavior that face masks create. In doing so, we exploit
a natural experiment setting formed after the mask use in stores in Berlin was mandatory
starting from April 27th, 2020. Randomization of mask use by the experimenters allows us to
use a difference-in-differences approach, comparing pre- and post-policy periods for subjects
behind a masked or an unmasked experimenter. Due to the randomization of treatments,
we can assume parallel trends between treatment groups, thus arguing in favor of causal
evidence regarding permanence of masks’ behavioral effect. On the other hand, we are
also well aware that the introduction of a mask mandate came along with other relaxation
measures. Thus, we interpret the pre- and post-policy differences as the joint effect of the
mandate and relaxations, naming it accordingly in our model.
Pooling the entire sample, we estimate the following equation to identify the effect of the
policy on distancing and its interaction with our Mask treatment:
Distancei=β0+β1M askEi+β2P olicyi+β3M askEi×P ol icyi
in which Distanceiis the distance kept by subject i,MaskEiis the indicator of the exper-
imenter wearing a mask, Policyiis an indicator for data collected after the policy changes
took place, thus distinguishing the two periods of data collection, and MaskS iis an in-
dicator for the subject wearing a mask. Hence, β2captures any effect in distancing that
results from the conjunction of policy changes between the first and the second data collec-
tion period but does not relate to the treatment, whereas the effect of the mask mandate
jointly with other policy changes on the effect from mask wearing is identified by β3. If we
cannot reject β3= 0, this implies that the face mask effect on distancing is not significantly
different between two periods. Xiis a vector of all other covariates and controls used in
different specifications. Standard errors εiare clustered according to store and date in order
to mitigate any potential correlation in error terms.9As the experimenter locations are not
overlapping in our sample, this approach also covers experimenter related correlations.
5.3 Main results
We structure the discussion of results along the hypotheses laid out above. We observe that
subjects keep a shorter distance from the experimenter in the data collected after the policy
change than before it on average. This also holds true in each treatment condition separately.
While subjects kept an average distance of 151.14 cm (SD=29.62) to the unmasked exper-
imenter in our pre-mandate sample, the average distance to the unmasked experimenter is
only 143.35 cm (SD=31.79) in the post-mandate sample. Similarly, subjects kept an average
distance of 159.85 cm (SD=31.79) to the masked experimenter in the pre-mandate sample,
but only 151.41 cm (SD=34.08) in the post-mandate sample. Thus, distances kept are, on
average, 7.79 cm (NoMask) and 8.41 cm (Mask) shorter in the post-policy period than
in the data collected before the policy change. Regression analysis confirms this observa-
tion: from Table 3, we see that the coefficient of the policy change is negative if we regress
observed distances on the policy change and controls for the subsample of subjects facing
the masked (column 1) and unmasked (column 2) experimenter. Therefore, we reject both
hypotheses 1.A and 1.B that subjects do not change or increase their distancing toward the
masked respectively unmasked experimenter due to the policy change.
Result 1. Distance kept toward the experimenter in the waiting line is weakly shorter after
the policy change in treatments Mask and NoMask.
In order to better understand whether the observed change in distancing between the pre-
and post-policy samples are driven by the mask mandate or by the relaxations in the restric-
tions in place, we estimate different specifications of equation 1. The results and summarized
in columns 3 to 6 of Table 3.
In line with the observed difference in distancing, column (3) indicates that distances toward
both the unmasked and the masked experimenter are about 9 cm shorter after the policy
changes had taken effect. While the coefficient on the treatment dummy MaskE is positive
and significant, the coefficient of the interaction between MaskE and the policy change is
not significant, suggesting that subjects keep significantly larger distances to the masked
experimenter both before and after the policy changes took effect.
We conclude that any difference from the policy changes must have affected subjects facing
the masked and the unmasked experimenter equally. Using additional specifications, we
9The clustered standard errors are used to mitigate any potential serial correlation in the error terms
due to clustered sampling. As we are considering relatively small number of clusters (55 in total), we also
perform wild cluster bootstrap method as a robustness check following Cameron et al. (2008). Please see
Appendix for details.
Table 3: Distance OLS
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Sample Mask NoMask Pooled Pooled Pooled Pooled
MaskE 9.2229.4499.1739.392
(4.216) (4.266) (4.221) (4.273)
Policy -12.26∗∗ -8.213 -9.294-0.0833 -3.055 8.082
(4.380) (4.546) (4.610) (6.407) (9.891) (10.88)
MaskE×Policy -1.614 -2.250 -1.481 -2.098
(5.557) (5.458) (5.610) (5.502)
MaskS 13.571.545 7.3767.6237.4997.785
(5.838) (4.052) (3.251) (3.298) (3.302) (3.356)
Stores -3.173∗∗ -3.255∗∗
(1.177) (1.198)
Online Search 0.170 0.216
(0.236) (0.209)
Pop. Density -2.282∗∗∗ -0.610 -1.423∗∗∗ -1.066∗∗ -1.435∗∗∗ -1.071∗∗
(0.411) (0.343) (0.309) (0.330) (0.300) (0.315)
Acc. Adult -5.087 -4.387 -5.442 -5.788 -5.403 -5.748
(6.952) (8.273) (4.999) (4.944) (4.992) (4.933)
Acc. Child -0.382 -5.921 -4.444 -3.789 -4.482 -3.821
(6.339) (4.175) (3.126) (3.254) (3.163) (3.296)
Ppl in Line 0.625 0.904 0.865∗∗ 0.938∗∗ 0.860∗∗ 0.934∗∗
(0.731) (0.484) (0.304) (0.309) (0.296) (0.303)
Constant 180.7∗∗∗ 158.7∗∗∗ 165.2∗∗∗ 156.5∗∗∗ 151.5∗∗∗ 138.9∗∗∗
(7.179) (5.412) (5.932) (6.701) (20.15) (18.32)
Demographics Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Observations 240 240 480 480 480 480
R20.146 0.091 0.107 0.125 0.109 0.127
Notes: Ordinary least squares estimates. Dependent variable is distance kept from the experimenter.
Standard errors in parentheses are clustered by day and store. p < 0.05, ∗∗ p < 0.01, ∗∗∗ p < 0.001.
MaskE and MaskS are indicator variables for whether the experimenter or subject, respectively, used a
face mask. Acc. Adult and Acc. Child indicate whether the subject was accompanied by at least one
other adult or child, respectively. Density is population density based on the 2011 German Census data.
Controls include gender and age dummy variables. Standard errors are clustered in day and store level.
argue that the observed shift in behaviors can be explained by a combination of factors
including a change of general perception about the pandemic and relaxation of business
openings. Specifically, we include the variable Stores, measuring the number of businesses
that were legally closed in April but were open in May at the time of measurement within a
50-meter radius of the point of data collection in May, and the variable Online Search, repre-
senting the relative number of Berlin specific hits on Google search for the novel coronavirus
on the day of measurement.
Specifications (4)-(6) in Table 3 include the additional covariates individually and in combi-
nation. These results suggest that the decline in distancing after the policy change can be
explained by reopening stores rather than the introduction of the mask mandate.10. Accord-
ing to specification (6), an additional newly open store near the location of measurement is
related to a decreased in distancing of 3.255 cm on average (p=0.002). However, we find
no evidence that online search for pandemic-related content predicts the difference between
distances in the pre- and post-mandate samples well. Virus-related internet traffic positively
correlates with greater distancing but the effect is not significant (p=0.257).
Next, we investigate the effect from the mask intervention in the post-mandate sample
(hypothesis 2). From table 3, it can be seen that the marginal effect of MaskE is at least 9
10We do not include experimenter fixed-effects here because they are collinear with the variable Stores
and the model would be overidentified including both.
cm in all specifications and significant. The effect is robust across time: the interaction with
the policy change is negative, as predicted, but not statistically different from zero. Thus,
we find no evidence suggesting that the effect has vanished with the introduction of a mask
mandate and thereby reject hypothesis 2. Further, in the post-mandate sample, subjects
kept greater distances from the masked than from the unmasked experimenters, on average.
Result 2. In the post-mandate sample, subjects maintain a significantly larger distance from
the experimenter wearing a mask.
We now turn to hypothesis 3 that, in the post-mandate period, the sub-sample of subjects
wearing a mask themselves does not react differently to the masked experimenter than
the rest of the sample. We first note that the share of masked subjects is indeed much
higher post-mandate than pre-mandate, even though masks were never mandatory in outside
waiting lines (see table 2).11 Indeed, this increase suggests that more people regularly wear
masks, such that the subsample of mask wearers post-mandate is less selected and more
similar to the population of unmasked individuals. We find that subjects with mask keep a
significantly larger distance than unmasked subjects in the pre-mandate sample (two-sample
t=-2.3788, p=0.0091), but this difference vanishes in the post-mandate sample (two-sample
t=-0.6327, p=0.2638). Thus, our data is consistent with hypothesis 3.
Result 3. In the post-policy sample, subjects wearing a mask do not keep a larger distance
from the experimenter.
Even though the self-selection into mask-wearing does not allow for a causal interpretation
of the estimate coefficient on MaskS, we further note that the coefficient is significantly
positive in specifications (3) to (6), contradicting the hypothesis that subjects may engage
in risk compensation and reduce their distancing in response to the protection offered by a
Table 3 reveals further interesting patterns. Population density of the neighborhood de-
creases distancing, 1000 inhabitants/km2decreases distancing by more than 1cm.12 Sub-
jects arriving in a group keep a shorter distance, but the difference is not significant in any
specification, neither for adult nor for minor companions.13 The number of people in line
in front of the experimenter has a small but significant effect on distancing (in (6): -0.93,
p=0.003). To learn if wearing a mask makes subjects not to stand behind the experimenter,
we test if the sample correlation coefficient between this and the treatment variable is sig-
nificant. The reasoning is that this behavior would increase the time between observations,
resulting in shorter lines. This claim is rejected (r= 0, p = 0.117).
5.4 Further Results
German health authorities and official mandates to limit the spread of the coronavirus spec-
ify that individuals should keep a distance of at least 150 cm to each other. In addition to
our main analysis, we investigate how our treatment of masking the experimenter and the
introduction of the mask mandate in Berlin affect compliance with this required minimum
distance. We find that compliance is higher toward the masked experimenter in both ob-
servation periods. Before the mask mandate, compliance is 54.17% if the experimenter does
not wear a mask and 69.17% if she/he does. After the mandate is introduced, compliance
is 40% if the experimenter does not wear a mask and 49.17% if he/she does.
The 150cm rule may look arbitrary as the recommendations of safe distances vary substan-
tially between countries.14 Hence, we also consider if compliance with alternative threshold
values increases with masking the experimenter. Figure 2a demonstrates that the choice
11The use of masks is significantly higher post mandate, γ2=0.9036 p=0.014.
12Area is defined by postal code.
13Further demographic controls gender and age dummies are not significant.
14For example, as of June 2020, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends
a 6-feet distance (=182.88cm).
0 .2 .4 .6 .8 1
50 100 150 200 250
CDF NoMask CDF Mask
(a) Cumulative distribution function.
0 .005 .01 .015
50 100 150 200 250
NoMask Mask
(b) Kernel density estimates
Figure 2: Cumulative distribution functions of distances kept by the subject from the ex-
perimenter in NoMask (blue) and Mask (red) conditions (in centimeter). Cumulative
distributions are exact and densities are estimated univariate Epanechnikov kernel density
of the critical value does not change our conclusion that mask improve distancing from
the experimenter. It is evident from the figure that subjects in the Mask condition are
more likely to exceed any relevant threshold value, i.e. compliance is generally higher there
than in the NoMask condition. Using non-parametrically estimated kernel density func-
tions, we confirm a positive shift in distancing (Fig. 2b, D=0.175, P=0.01, two-sided
Kolmogorov–Smirnov test).15
Equation (1) is correctly specified only if the treatment dummy MaskE does not influence
the subject’s decision of putting on a mask, MaskS. We believe that the exogeneity of
MaskS is given as subjects decide about their use of a mask before seeing the experimenter.
However, this decision may be reversed upon seeing the experimenter. We therefore test the
independence claim is tested with the following logit binary choice model:
P r(M askS = 1) = exp(γ0+M askE +γ2M andate+γ3M askE×M andate×M andate+φXi+εi)
1+exp(γ0+MaskE+γ2M andate+γ3M askE ×M andate+φXi+εi)(2)
Using the same set of covariates as in Model (4) in Table 3, we find that the coefficient of
MaskE is not significant (γ1=0.2358, p=0.524). We conclude that the subjects decide about
wearing a mask independently of whether the experimenter wears a mask or not.
5.5 External Validity
According to the medical literature, airborne contagion is a primary source of transmission
of SARS-CoV-2 and, thus, distancing between individuals is important to prevent the spread
of the virus (Zhang et al., 2020). Hence, a successful mitigation strategy needs to understand
and take into account how policy affects distancing patterns. In this study, we analyze how
the introduction of a mask mandate affected distancing in order to contribute knowledge
in this respect. An overall evaluation of policies on distancing needs to take into account
as many facets of individual behavior as possible because restrictions as well as re-openings
alter the choice set of customers, resulting in changes in behavior that affect the exposure
to infectious particles.
Putting our design in perspective, the data was collected in an environment where trans-
mission is possible (Qian et al., 2020)16 but at the same time, wearing a mask is optional
15A parametric test yields similar results. We estimated a logit model analogous to model (6) in Table 3
where now the dependent variable is compliance with the 150cm threshold. The estimated coefficient of Mask
Experimenter is positive and significant (β1=0.7145, p=0.02). The interaction between Mask Experimenter
and the policy change is insignificant as in the main model (β3=-0.2893, p=0.535). See Appendix for details.
16Airborne lifetime of small speech droplets can reach 8-14 minutes according to Stadnytskyi et al. (2020),
but air movements can dilute the concentration of virus and make transmission substantially less likely.
even under the mandate. The places where we collected data fall into a category of settings
in which distancing is recommended by authorities with the pretext that it helps preventing
contagion. Our findings do not necessarily generalize to the effect of the mask mandate in
stores or high-risk areas where the mask mandate made wearing a mask mandatory. How-
ever, our results are fully in line with evidence from mobility patterns in Germany, which
have not changed negatively with the introduction of a mask mandate (Kovacs et al., 2020).
6 Discussion
We seek to extend the literature on masks by investigating how face mask policies affect
distancing and, specifically, how they interact with the effect that face masks have on dis-
tancing behavior. We follow up on the claim that face masks make individuals prone to less
rigorous compliance with other contagion prevention recommendations, such as physical dis-
tancing, a claim that is frequently heard in the discussion on face masks but has so far not
received empirical support. Seres et al. (2020) show that individuals keep a greater distance
from someone who is masked, contradicting a negative effect of masking. However, ex ante,
it is not clear that this would still be true in the presence of a mask mandate. With data
from periods before and after the introduction of a mask mandate in Berlin, we show that
the positive effect of masking observed in Seres et al. (2020) persisted in the presence of a
mask mandate. In this section, we evaluate our findings in the light of motivation crowding,
risk compensation, two-process theory, and cognitive dissonance.
Based on motivation crowding theory, the introduction of a face mask policy may ultimately
alter the behavioral response of individuals beyond the wearing of masks, e.g. distancing
behavior. We argue that a large part of the precautions that individuals engage in to flatten
the curve are intrinsically motivated. This is in line with evidence on the effect of perceived
risk on precautions taken and also with the observation that mobility in many place was
substantially reduced even before official stay-at-home orders became effective. According
to motivation crowding theory, a mask mandate may then crowd in or crowd out intrinsic
motivation to comply with measures to prevent the virus spread, depending on circumstances
(Frey and Jegen, 2001). A crowding-in in motivation and, thus, an effect that reinforces the
effectiveness of the mask mandate with respect to virus spread can be expected if individuals
perceive the policy as supporting their intrinsic motivation. However, if individuals perceive
it as negating their intrinsic efforts or as making those redundant, the policy may induce
countervailing behavior change by crowding out intrinsic motivation (Frey and Jegen, 2001;
Festr´e and Garrouste, 2015). Further, policies may crowd out compliance with existing
norms because they are perceived as rules that substitute social norms (Ostrom, 2000).
Our data does not support the notion of crowding out from the introduction of the mask
mandate as we attribute the observed decrease in distancing in the post-mandate sample to
the accompanying policy relaxations.
Further, individuals may perceive the introduction of a face-masking mandate as an indi-
cation that alternative precautions – e.g., avoiding unnecessary contacts and trips, keeping
safe physical distances to others – had become less relevant. Specifically, individuals may
perceive face masks as an effective means of reducing the overall infection risk as evidence
for this becomes available. If individuals show risk compensation behavior and decrease
their compliance with complementary measures such as distance-keeping, the expected ben-
eficial effect from compulsory masking would be (partially) negated. Ironically, introducing
a face mask policy (rather than just recommending face mask use) may introduce a general
increase in risk compensation behavior, which was the reason why face masks were not rec-
ommended as a protective measure initially by WHO and other health bodies. Our results
speak against such a direct backlash from a mask mandate but also suggest that distancing
is sensitive to contextual changes such as increased shop openings.
On a different note, we stated our hypotheses on policy effects based on the premise that
both the masked experimenter and the mask mandate, which implies that subjects in the
waiting line carry a mask with them, serve as triggers: According to the two-process theory
of reasoning (Stanovich and West, 2000; Kahneman, 2011), these triggers would induce
the necessary mental effort to comply with the recommended distancing. What we find is
only partially consistent with this. The positive effect of the mask-wearing experimenter
on distancing is present before and after the mask mandate, suggesting that the mask in
treatment Mask has a trigger effect. But we do not find evidence that the mask mandate
serves as a trigger as distancing if anything decreases after the mandate.
According to the theory of cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957), the interaction of people
with the outside world highly depends on mental inconsistencies. In our case, the relaxations
that came with the policy change at the end of April 2020 have plausibly suggested to
people that the severity of the situation had decreased. Thus, avoiding a mask became less
costly for human psychology after the policy change and the mask mandate may not have
created enough of a general awareness to counteract this change in beliefs. When faced
with the masked experimenter directly in front of them, though, subjects in our experiment
apparently adjust their perception and better comply with the recommended distancing,
leading to the observed positive mask effect.
7 Conclusion
This study utilizes a field experiment in which we measure distancing in lines to stores.
The experimenters entered these lines randomly with and without a face masks during the
COVID-19 pandemic. Measurement was carried out twice: before and after the mask man-
date in stores. The main findings show that the effect of masks worn by the experimenters
is positive significant and not significantly different in the two time periods. We do not
find evidence of risk compensation: Subjects wearing a mask do not keep a shorter distance
and the mask mandate did not change this. Using pre-mandate field data and survey, Seres
et al. (2020) conclude that mask-driven distancing is implied by a signaling channel. A
mask mandate does not impact this conclusion. Assuming that distancing is an effective
measure against transmission of SARS-CoV2, we find no evidence that mandating masks
has a negative spillover effect.
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Supplementary Materials
There are two appendices. The first appendix contains the pre-registered protocol for the
field experiment. (Appendix A). The second consists of robustness tests (Appendix B).
A Experimental Protocol
17 Disclaimer: Experimenters signed up to this experiment on voluntary basis under the
condition that they do not belong to any risk groups. In order to prevent posing any further
risk on any of the parties, the Robert Koch Institute’s health recommendations are strictly
The instructions for the recording of data follow. Please read the whole document and follow
all points very carefully.
Code of Conduct
Experimenter Appearance
As experimenter, you will need an FFP2 respiratory protection mask for this experiment.
Each time, before you go to an experiment location, you will take two full-body (self-
)portrait photos of yourself: One with and one without a mask. The primary purpose of the
photos is recording variables describing your appearance if this is requested by the reviewers.
To decrease the noise due to experimenter appearance, you are expected to wear a pair of
blue jeans and a dark colored (black, dark gray, or navy blue) top without any visible text
or logo.19 Your outfit and mask type have to match that you used for the preceding data
Location You may choose a location that satisfies the following list of conditions.
The establishment is an open supermarket, a drug store (except pharmacy), or a post
There must be a queue outside with people waiting for entering the store. The queue
must stand on a flat surface with no obstructing objects. Make sure that the queue
is clearly visible and it is clear for the arriving subject that you are the last person in
the line and approximately where they should stand.
You can record the data anytime between May 12-20 between 08:00-20:00 during day-
light with good visibility. In order to secure good visibility conditions, do not record
data when it is raining.
You should avoid stores that have heavy traffic that would make measurement difficult.
For instance, if there is another store or a subway exit next door, people in the queue
might change their position frequently, making recording data problematic.
The time gap between people who are let in the store must be sufficiently long. The
measurement may take a couple of seconds, and you may be asked to move forward if
the queue moves; the subject can also move before you can record the distance between
you. The speed is usually slower at post offices than at supermarkets.
The location you choose should be limited to those you visited during the previous
data collection.
17There are minor differences in the two protocols. These changes are clearly marked in the text.
18The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) is the German government’s key scientific institution in the field
of biomedicine. It is one of the central bodies for the safeguarding of public health in Germany. See
19Please consult us if you do not own these items.
Data Recording Method You will need a smartphone with an installed augmented-reality
tape-measure app that is capable of measuring small distances in centimeters with small
measurement errors. The error is measured individually on the same device you use on
location. Place two flat objects on the ground at any location with a clear surface exactly
100 cm from each other. Similarly to the protocol on location, measure this distance with
the application. Do the same measurement five times with different positions of the objects.
You may proceed with this hardware and application if the error is within a 3% margin
every time.
Preparation for Data Recording In total, you are expected to perform 60 independent
observations. Before each session, you set an even target of observations you are planning
to record. Half of them you execute with your mask on, the other half without. The order
you decide randomly using a fair coin or any random number generator. Example: You set
the number to 20. After tossing the coin, you start with 10 observations with your mask on.
After finishing with this, you remove the mask and perform another 10 without it. Finally,
you leave the location.
The purpose of changing your appearance only once is to limit the number of times you
may accidentally touch your face. You can safely avoid this if you remove the mask by only
touching the strings. You should proceed the same way if you start your work without your
mask on. To learn about the safe way of wearing a mask, please consult the website of the
Robert Koch Institute.
Data Recording Procedure Due to lock-down measures in place, you will work alone and
record the data individually. After choosing the location, go to the end of the queue outside
and carefully follow this protocol.
1. Go to the queue and stand 150 centimeters (1.5 meter) away from the last person.20
Measure this using the same application.
2. Turn sideways, neither facing the queue nor the subject arriving after you. Make sure
that you can see both.
3. If necessary, calibrate your application such that it is ready for measurement. Do not
open other applications at this point.
4. If someone is approaching, turn your back against the queue and face the subject
before they arrive. Make sure that your face is visible, but look at your device the
whole time. Keep a neutral facial expression and do not make eye contact.
5. The app measures distance by pinning two points on the ground. These two points
are the closest points of yours and the subject’s shoes. You pin the tip of their shoe
first when they arrive, and the tip of your shoe second.
6. Record the length and exit the queue.
7. After this, record all remaining variables, starting with the number of people in the
queue who were standing before you outside at the point of measurement. After this,
go back to the end of the queue until you reach your target number of observations.
Further Points to Consider
If there is a group, the subject is the person closest to you, irrespective of age. Exceptions:
If the closest person is an infant in a stroller or a person in a wheelchair, the closest point is
where the front wheel touches the ground. If this reference point belongs to a stroller, the
person you record is the one handling the stroller.
20Recommended minimum safe distance by the Federal Government of Germany and the Robert Koch
Do not record an observation if you are unable to pinpoint the position of the subject
accurately (i.e. the subject can keep jogging in place, move back or forward before you
can finish pinning) or if the subject engages in an activity that would trigger distancing
according to local social norms (i.e. smoking, talking on the phone, eating).
There are 3 time slots per day: morning 8:00-12:00, mid-day 12:00-16:00, and early evening
16:00-20:00. Do not record more than 50% of the observations in one period of time (e.g.
morning), even if they are recorded on different days.
Do not attempt to make any media record of the subject or any other individual near you
as this may be unwelcome without consent. If you meet hostile or unfriendly reactions or
you are questioned by someone, you can reveal your identity and that you are conducting a
publicly funded scientific study. If this hinders or influences recording data, or puts you in
an uncomfortable situation, leave the location.
You are asked to identify if there is a shop/establishment nearby that is open at the time
point of measurement and accepting customers, but was legally not allowed to open in April
because of the business type (e.g. nail salon, certain types of retail store). To qualify, it has
to be visible and within a 50-meter radius from the point of data collection.
Data and Variables
In this part, you can find the list of variables with the corresponding codes. Your task is to
complete the spreadsheet for each observation. You will receive the spreadsheet by email.
If you finished recording, send the file to
MaskE Treatment variable. Experimenter 0=without 1=with mask.
Distance Distance to the subject. Measured in centimeter (cm).
GenderS Binary variable. Subject gender 0=male 1=female.
AgeS Guessed age category of the subject. 0= below 14, 1=14-25, 2=25-
35, 3=35-45, 4=45-60, 5=60+. If it is uncertain, write your best
MaskS Binary variable. Subject 0=without, 1=with a manufactured
mask, 2=with homemade mask or improvised cover of mouth and
nose (e.g. scarf ).
CompanyAdult Number of accompanying adults, 0=no adult. Adult, if age>14.
CompanyChild Number of accompanying children, 0=no child. Child, if age<14.
TotalNumofPeople The total number of people outside in front of you in the queue
at the moment of measurement. Do not include people inside.
SocialNormS The presence of social norm violations (i.e. smoking, food, other).
Address Address of the experiment. For example, “Spandauer Strasse 1,
Store Type of the store. 1=post office, 2=supermarket, 3=drug store,
4=other (please add a note)
Local At least one business open nearby (50m) that was not allowed to
open in April but is open to customers at the time of measurement.
0=no, 1=yes
ID Surname of experimenter.
Date Date of the month. E.g. if the date is April 20, write 20.
Time Time of the day (i.e. 1400, 1430, etc.).
Note 1 Additional remarks, may be left empty.
Note 2 Additional remarks, may be left empty.
B Further robustness checks
B.1 Collection method
The observations were collected in sessions. Each session is defined as the target number
of observations that the experimenter aims to obtain when initially approaching the line.
The experimenter wore a mask (treatment group) for half of the observations and collected
the other half without wearing the mask (control group). The order of the treatment and
control group was randomized through a coin toss. To ensure the conditions in which the
measurements were taken did not differ, we calculated the time distance between measure-
ments in the same session.21 The average time between observations was 320 seconds, with a
standard deviation of 335 seconds and no significant difference between the treatment group
and the control group (Mann-Whitney U test z = -0.926, p = 0.3547). We believe, therefore,
that no subject refrained from joining the line because of the experimenter wearing – or not
wearing – a mask. On average, 5.63 people (SD=3.83) were present in the line, excluding
the experimenter. Pre-mandate, the average line comprised 6.48 (SD=4.11) subjects, while
post-mandate the average length dropped to 4.78 (SD=3.33). We did not detect a significant
difference between the length of lines between the treatment group and the control group
(Mann-Whitney U test z = 0.188, p = 0.8511). The age of subjects wearing a mask pre- and
post-intervention, as highlighted in figure 3a, is substantially different. The older portion
of the sample was much more likely to wear masks (38.71%) even before their use in shops
was made compulsory. The percentage of mask wearers in the other age categories, instead,
rose in the post-intervention period, reaching an average of 40.45% subjects aged 0 to 60
from the previous average of 13.88% in the pre-intervention period.
0 .1 .2 .3 .4 .5
0−15 15−2525−35 35−45 45−60 60+ 0−15 15−25 25−35 35−45 45−60 60+
pre−intervention post−intervention
Subjects with masks by age category (%)
(a) Mask usage by age.
50 100 150 200 250 300
0−15 15−25 25−35 35−45 45−60 60+ 0−15 15−25 25−35 35−45 45−60 60+
pre−intervention post−intervention
Distance by age category (cm)
(b) Distance held by the subjects, by age category.
Figure 3: Distance and mask wearing by age categories.
During our measurements, we were not able to accurately record the type of mask used
by the subjects. FFP2 masks, while different in substance from a surgical mask due to
their filtering properties, are optically difficult to distinguish from other types of masks. We
expect the subjects looking at the experimenters to have encountered the same difficulty.
B.2 Wild cluster bootstrap
Cluster-robust standard errors may be inaccurate when calculated on small numbers of
clusters (see, e.g., Cameron et al., 2008). While our data is divided in 55 clusters and, thus,
is less prone to this type of inaccuracy, here we report the p-values calculated through a wild
21One of the experimenters did not record the exact time of the observations, therefore the corresponding
data was removed from this analysis. We include only measurements taken at most 60 minutes apart from
the previous, as time distances longer than 30 minutes come from breaks taken by the experimenters or
absence of a line at the time of measure. 7 observations were recorded at more than 60 minutes from the
previous, 5 in the control group and 2 in the treatment group.
cluster bootstrap procedure as implemented by Roodman et al. (2019). This check mostly
confirms the robustness of the results shown in section 5.3, table 3.
Table 4: Wild bootstrap p-values
Distance Bootstrap p-value
Mask Experimenter 9.392[0.048]
Mandate 8.082 [0.505]
Mask Experimenter ×-2.098 [0.715]
Newly Open Stores -3.255∗∗ [0.022]
Online Search 0.216 [0.339]
Mask Subject 7.785∗∗ [0.028]
Population Density -1.071∗∗ [0.004]
Accompanying Adult -5.748 [0.284]
Accompanying Child -3.821 [0.244]
# of People in Line 0.934∗∗ [0.009]
Female Subject -0.717 [0.832]
Aged under 15 3.835 [0.739]
Aged between 15 and 25 -8.159 [0.289]
Aged between 25 and 35 -0.986 0.842
Aged between 35 and 45 -0.670 [0.891]
Aged between 45 and 60 3.626 [0.483]
Constant 138.9∗∗∗ [0.000]
Observations 480
Notes: Ordinary least squares estimates. Clustered errors (day, store) in parentheses. p < 0.05, ∗∗
p < 0.01, ∗∗∗ p < 0.001. Mask Experimenter and Mask Subject are indicator variables for whether
the experimenter or subject, respectively, used a face mask. Female Sub ject=1 if the subject is female.
Accompanying Adult and Accompanying Child indicate whether the subject was accompanied by at
least one other adult or child, respectively. Population density is based on the 2011 German Census
data. Wild cluster bootstrap p-values in square brackets.
... to less distancing compliance 15 . Only one field experimental study found conditional support of risk compensation, e.g., with men keeping less distance to masked confederates 18 . ...
... We collected around 500 h of recordings, recorded from the end of July throughout August 2020. The raw footage covered 13 days (Wednesdays, Saturdays, one Sunday), with four days of pre-intervention baseline measures (July 22, 25, 29, and August 1), and nine post-intervention days ( August 5,8,12,15,19,22,23,26,29). From this sample, we randomly selected 78 30-min segments, across which a team of twelve trained research assistants observed 423 persons (167 with and 256 without a mask) entering and leaving the scene, with an average person observation time of 23 s (SD = 17.8). ...
... Although the literature on risk compensation around mask use is sparse and of somewhat mixed quality, studies relying on field experiments-a method particularly well-suited to evaluate behavioral influences in naturally occurring settings 50 -tend to reject the risk compensations hypothesis [14][15][16][17] . The current observational and experimental studies-examining both voluntary and mandatory mask settings-also rejected this hypothesis. ...
Full-text available
Face masks have been widely employed as a personal protective measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, concerns remain that masks create a false sense of security that reduces adherence to other public health measures, including social distancing. This paper tested whether mask-wearing was negatively associated with social distancing compliance. In two studies, we combined video-observational records of public mask-wearing in two Dutch cities with a natural-experimental approach to evaluate the effect of an area-based mask mandate. We found no observational evidence of an association between mask-wearing and social distancing but found a positive link between crowding and social distancing violations. Our natural-experimental analysis showed that an area-based mask mandate did not significantly affect social distancing or crowding levels. Our results alleviate the concern that mask use reduces social distancing compliance or increases crowding levels. On the other hand, crowding reduction may be a viable strategy to mitigate social distancing violations.
... Over the last year some studies have investigated the effect of face masks on physical distancing. Using an experimental set-up it was shown that generally people keep more distance from a confederate when the confederate was wearing a face mask compared to wearing no mask [12][13][14] , although some evidence was also found for the reverse pattern 15 . In observational studies it was moreover shown that mandatory wearing of face masks is positively associated to physical distancing 10 . ...
... This suggests that risk compensation, also known as the Peltzman effect 9 , is not operative in the case of face masks. Interestingly, however, previous studies showed that seeing someone else wear a face mask does influence physical distancing behavior [12][13][14][15] . Together, these findings also underscore the need to execute dedicated empirical research in different contexts to evaluate behavioral hypotheses, as it illustrates how prima facie plausible claims about human behavior may miss the mark 16 . ...
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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, physical distancing behavior turned out to be key to mitigating the virus spread. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand how we can successfully alter our behavior and promote physical distancing. We present a framework to systematically assess the effectiveness of behavioral interventions to stimulate physical distancing. In addition, we demonstrate the feasibility of this framework in a large-scale natural experiment ( N = 639) conducted during an art fair. In an experimental design, we varied interventions to evaluate the effect of face masks, walking directions, and immediate feedback on visitors’ contacts. We represent visitors as nodes, and their contacts as links in a contact network. Subsequently, we used network modelling to test for differences in these contact networks. We find no evidence that face masks influence physical distancing, while unidirectional walking directions and buzzer feedback do positively impact physical distancing. This study offers a feasible way to optimize physical distancing interventions through scientific research. As such, the presented framework provides society with the means to directly evaluate interventions, so that policy can be based on evidence rather than conjecture.
... space (50-90 cm) as approaching the most appropriate distance for communication in Germany 63 . These results are in line with most of the previous studies 23,27,39,40 and only contradict the very early ones 36,37 . This can indicate that human perception of distances and masks has changed since the early days of the pandemic: the mask is no longer a symbol of danger but rather of protection. ...
Full-text available
Peripersonal space is the space surrounding our body, where multisensory integration of stimuli and action execution take place. The size of peripersonal space is flexible and subject to change by various personal and situational factors. The dynamic representation of our peripersonal space modulates our spatial behaviors towards other individuals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this spatial behavior was modified by two further factors: social distancing and wearing a face mask. Evidence from offline and online studies on the impact of a face mask on pro-social behavior is mixed. In an attempt to clarify the role of face masks as pro-social or anti-social signals, 235 observers participated in the present online study. They watched pictures of two models standing at three different distances from each other (50, 90 and 150 cm), who were either wearing a face mask or not and were either interacting by initiating a hand shake or just standing still. The observers’ task was to classify the model by gender. Our results show that observers react fastest, and therefore show least avoidance, for the shortest distances (50 and 90 cm) but only when models wear a face mask and do not interact. Thus, our results document both pro- and anti-social consequences of face masks as a result of the complex interplay between social distancing and interactive behavior. Practical implications of these findings are discussed.
... In this study, over half of the participants (62.40%) reported that mask use does not imply not complying with other health and safety considerations against the COVID-19. The study by Seres et al. supports this finding (37). In contrast, the WHO declared that one possible disadvantage of the mask use is related to the users' false sense of security and low adherence to observing all vital preventive actions (15). ...
Full-text available
Background: Due to the pandemic, COVID-19 cases and deaths are increasing unexpectedly and precipitately. More importantly, asymptomatic carriers could infect healthy people through sneezing, coughing, and talking. Therefore, mask usage is required to prevent and control COVID-19. Objectives: This study was aimed at examining the knowledge, attitude, and performance levels (KAP) of the Iranian population regarding mask usage to prevent and control the COVID-19 outbreak during a one-month period from early April to early May 2020. Methods: A researcher-made, validated, and reliable questionnaire consisting of 30 questions on knowledge, attitude, and performance regarding mask usage was utilized. Data collection was performed through the online method. To do so, the online questionnaire link was provided for the participants via social networks. The correct and wrong answers were scored 1 and 0 points, respectively. The final score of each dimension was calculated and classified as 0 - 50% (low), 51 - 75% (moderate), and 75% > (good). Results: A total of 1581 participants took part in the study. Although the participants had good attitude (74%) and performance (70.80%), but only 13.70% of them had good knowledge regarding mask usage. Also, significant differences were found between the participants’ knowledge and higher educational levels (P < 0.001). There were significant associations between the participants’ age, gender, educational level, and job and their knowledge and attitude levels (P < 0.05). Besides, female participants had higher performance scores than did male participants (P < 0.001). The participants with governmental jobs had significantly higher performance than unemployed ones (P < 0.001). Conclusions: The participants obtained low KAP scores; therefore, it is required to train and inform the society and enhance their KAP levels via social media regarding the importance of mask usage, including proper donning, doffing, cleaning, disinfection, and safely and hygienic disposal procedures of masks to prevent and control COVID-19.
... space (50-90 cm) as approaching the most appropriate distance for communication in Germany 63 . These results are in line with most of the previous studies 23,27,39,40 and only contradict the very early ones 36,37 . This can indicate that human perception of distances and masks has changed since the early days of the pandemic: the mask is no longer a symbol of danger but rather of protection. ...
Full-text available
Peripersonal space is the space surrounding our body, where multisensory integration of stimuli and action execution take place. The size of peripersonal space is flexible and subject to change by various personal and situational factors. The dynamic representation of our peripersonal space modulates our spatial behaviors towards other individuals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this spatial behavior was modified by two further factors: social distancing and wearing a face mask. Evidence from offline and online studies on the impact of a face mask on pro-social behavior is mixed. In an attempt to clarify the role of face masks as pro-social or anti-social signals, 235 observers participated in the present online study. They watched pictures of two models standing at three different distances from each other (50, 90 and 150 cm), who were either wearing a face mask or not and were either interacting by initiating a hand shake or just standing still. The observers’ task was to classify the model by gender. Our results show that observers react fastest, and therefore show least avoidance, for the shortest distances (50 and 90 cm) but only when models wear a face mask and do not interact. Thus, our results document both pro- and anti-social consequences of face masks as a result of the complex interplay between social distancing and interactive behavior. Practical implications of these findings are discussed.
... The results demonstrate that the facial coverings policy creates a false sense of security, increases mobility, and reduces social distance. Contrary to the findings of Seres et al. [42], who conducted a randomized field trial in Berlin, Germany, and found that wearing masks increase social distance. ...
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Based on data from 121 countries, the study assesses the dynamic effect and causality path of the government epidemic prevention policies and human mobility behaviors on the growth rates of COVID-19 new cases and deaths. Our results find that both policies and behaviors influenced COVID-19 cases and deaths. The direct effect of policies on COVID-19 was more than the indirect effect. Policies influence behaviors, and behaviors react spontaneously to information. Further, masks give people a false sense of security and increase mobility. The close public transport policy increased COVID-19 new cases. We also conducted sensitivity analysis and found that some policies hold robustly, such as the policies of school closing, restrictions on gatherings, stay-at-home requirements, international travel controls, facial coverings, and vaccination. The counterfactual tests suggest that, as of early March 2021, if governments had mandated masking policies early in the epidemic, the cases and deaths would have been reduced by 18% and 9% separately. If governments had implemented vaccination policies early in the pandemic, the cases and deaths would have been reduced by 95% and 74%, respectively. Without public transportation closures, cases and deaths would have been reduced by 47% and 15%, respectively.
... ECDC has produced and published infographics and videos [115][116][117] on how to correctly put on and discard a face mask in the community. Concerns that the mandatory use of face masks would generate a false sense of security that could decrease adherence to other types of protective behaviour, such as physical distancing, have been both supported by some studies [118] and disputed by other studies [119,120]. The use of face masks has been associated with decreased face-touching [121]. ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
Prior to COVID-19, most studies assessing the effectiveness of face masks as a protective measure in the community came from studies on influenza, which provided little evidence to support their use. This technical report reviews the evidence that has been accumulated since the emergence of COVID-19, in addition to what has existed on this topic prior to the pandemic, and updates the ECDC opinion on the suitability of using face masks in the community published on 9 April 2020.
Full-text available
Face masks play a pivotal role in the control of respiratory diseases, such as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Despite their widespread use, little is known about how face masks affect human social interaction. Using unique experimental data collected early on in the pandemic, we investigate how facial occlusion by face masks alters socio-economic exchange. In a behavioral economics study (N = 481), individuals accepted more monetary offers and lower offer amounts when interacting with a masked versus unmasked opponent. Importantly, this effect was mainly driven by faces covered with surgical masks relative to bandana-type masks. In the first weeks of mask use during the COVID-19 pandemic, motive attributions further moderated this effect: Participants who believed that mask wearers were seeking to protect others showed the highest acceptance rates. Overall, we describe a new phenomenon, the face-mask effect on socio-economic exchange, and show that it is modulated by contextual factors.
Full-text available
During the COVID-19 pandemic several behavioral measures have been implemented to reduce viral transmission. While these measures reduce the risk of infections, they may also increase risk behavior. Here, we experimentally investigate the influence of face masks on physical distancing. Eighty-four participants with or without face masks passed virtual agents in a supermarket environment to reach a target while interpersonal distance was recorded. Agents differed in wearing face masks and age (young, elderly). In addition, situational constraints varied in whether keeping a distance of 1.5 m required an effortful detour or not. Wearing face masks (both self and other) reduced physical distancing. This reduction was most prominent when keeping the recommended distance was effortful, suggesting an influence of situational constraints. Similarly, increased distances to elderly were only observed when keeping a recommended distance was effortless. These findings highlight contextual constraints in compensation behavior and have important implications for safety policies.
Full-text available
Introduction: Concerns have been raised about the potential for risk compensation in the context of mask mandates for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. However, the debate about the presence or absence of risk compensation for universal mandatory mask-wearing rules—especially in the context of COVID-19—is not settled yet. Methods: Mobility is used as a proxy for risky behaviour before and after the mask mandates. Two sets of regressions are estimated to decipher (any) risk-compensating effect of mask mandate in Bangladesh. These include: (1) intervention regression analysis of daily activities at six types of locations, using pre-mask-mandate and post-mandate data; and (2) multiple regression analysis of daily new COVID-19 cases on daily mobility (lagged) to establish mobility as a valid proxy. Results: (1) Statistically, mobility increased at all five non-residential locations, while home stays decreased after the mask mandate was issued; (2) daily mobility had a statistically significant association on daily new cases (with around 10 days of lag). Both significances were calculated at 95% confidence level. Conclusions: Community mobility had increased (and stay at home decreased) after the mandatory mask-wearing rule, and given mobility is associated with increases in new COVID-19 cases, there is evidence of risk compensation effect of the mask mandate—at least partially—in Bangladesh.
Full-text available
Speech droplets generated by asymptomatic carriers of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are increasingly considered to be a likely mode of disease transmission. Highly sensitive laser light scattering observations have revealed that loud speech can emit thousands of oral fluid droplets per second. In a closed, stagnant air environment, they disappear from the window of view with time constants in the range of 8 to 14 min, which corresponds to droplet nuclei of ca. 4 μm diameter, or 12- to 21-μm droplets prior to dehydration. These observations confirm that there is a substantial probability that normal speaking causes airborne virus transmission in confined environments.
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We examine the net benefits of social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 in USA. Social distancing saves lives but imposes large costs on society due to reduced economic activity. We use epidemiological and economic forecasting to perform a rapid benefit–cost analysis of controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. Assuming that social distancing measures can substantially reduce contacts among individuals, we find net benefits of about $5.2 trillion in our benchmark case. We examine the magnitude of the critical parameters that might imply negative net benefits, including the value of statistical life and the discount rate. A key unknown factor is the speed of economic recovery with and without social distancing measures in place. A series of robustness checks also highlight the key role of the value of mortality risk reductions and discounting in the analysis and point to a need for effective economic stimulus when the outbreak has passed.
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In the current context of the global pandemic of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), health professionals are working with social scientists to inform government policy on how to slow the spread of the virus. An increasing amount of social scientific research has looked at the role of public message framing, for instance, but few studies have thus far examined the role of individual differences in emotional and personality-based variables in predicting virus-mitigating behaviors. In this study, we recruited a large international community sample (N = 324) to complete measures of self-perceived risk of contracting COVID-19, fear of the virus, moral foundations, political orientation, and behavior change in response to the pandemic. Consistently, the only predictor of positive behavior change (e.g., social distancing, improved hand hygiene) was fear of COVID-19, with no effect of politically relevant variables. We discuss these data in relation to the potentially functional nature of fear in global health crises.
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Data from two MTurk studies with U.S. respondents (total N =1,153) revealed an ideological divide in adherence to social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, political conservatism inversely predicted compliance with behaviors aimed at preventing the spread of the COVID-19. Differences in reported social distancing were mediated by divergent perceptions of the health risk posed by COVID-19 (Studies 1 and 2), which were explained by differences in self-reported knowledge of COVID-19 (Study 1) and perceived media accuracy in covering the pandemic (Studies 1 and 2). The politicization of COVID-19 may have prompted conservatives to discount mainstream media reports of the severity of the virus, leading them to downplay its health risks and consequently adherence less to social distancing protocols. These effects hold when controlling for key demographic characteristics as well as psychological variables, including belief in science and COVID-19-related anxiety. Thus, political ideology may uniquely explain COVID-19 behavior.
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Face mask use by the general public for limiting the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is controversial, though increasingly recommended, and the potential of this intervention is not well understood. We develop a compartmental model for assessing the community-wide impact of mask use by the general, asymptomatic public, a portion of which may be asymptomatically infectious. Model simulations, using data relevant to COVID-19 dynamics in the US states of New York and Washington, suggest that broad adoption of even relatively ineffective face masks may meaningfully reduce community transmission of COVID-19 and decrease peak hospitalizations and deaths. Moreover, mask use decreases the effective transmission rate in nearly linear proportion to the product of mask effectiveness (as a fraction of potentially infectious contacts blocked) and coverage rate (as a fraction of the general population), while the impact on epidemiologic outcomes (death, hospitalizations) is highly nonlinear, indicating masks could synergize with other non-pharmaceutical measures. Notably, masks are found to be useful with respect to both preventing illness in healthy persons and preventing asymptomatic transmission. Hypothetical mask adoption scenarios, for Washington and New York state, suggest that immediate near universal (80%) adoption of moderately (50%) effective masks could prevent on the order of 17–45% of projected deaths over two months in New York, while decreasing the peak daily death rate by 34–58%, absent other changes in epidemic dynamics. Even very weak masks (20% effective) can still be useful if the underlying transmission rate is relatively low or decreasing: In Washington, where baseline transmission is much less intense, 80% adoption of such masks could reduce mortality by 24–65% (and peak deaths 15–69%), compared to 2–9% mortality reduction in New York (peak death reduction 9–18%). Our results suggest use of face masks by the general public is potentially of high value in curtailing community transmission and the burden of the pandemic. The community-wide benefits are likely to be greatest when face masks are used in conjunction with other non-pharmaceutical practices (such as social-distancing), and when adoption is nearly universal (nation-wide) and compliance is high.
We study partisan differences in Americans’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Political leaders and media outlets on the right and left have sent divergent messages about the severity of the crisis, which could impact the extent to which Republicans and Democrats engage in social distancing and other efforts to reduce disease transmission. We develop a simple model of a pandemic response with heterogeneous agents that clarifies the causes and consequences of heterogeneous responses. We use location data from a large sample of smartphones to show that areas with more Republicans engaged in less social distancing, controlling for other factors including public policies, population density, and local COVID cases and deaths. We then present new survey evidence of significant gaps at the individual level between Republicans and Democrats in self-reported social distancing, beliefs about personal COVID risk, and beliefs about the future severity of the pandemic.
There is currently a heated debate about whether to introduce policies requiring the general public to wear protective face masks to contain COVID-19. A key concern is that compulsory face mask policies will make the public feel safer (due to risk compensation), and may consequently undermine the most important public-health advice to contain COVID-19 – which is to reduce mobility and maintain social distancing. This study provides first evidence on the impact of compulsory face mask policies on community mobility. We use a difference-in-differences design, which exploits the staggered implementation of compulsory face mask policies by German states. We use anonymised GPS data from Google's Location History feature to measure daily mobility in public spaces (groceries and pharmacies, transport hubs and workplaces). We find no evidence that compulsory face mask policies affect community mobility in public spaces in Germany. The evidence provided in this paper makes a crucial contribution to ongoing debates about how to best manage the COVID-19 pandemic.