Like seat belt use, mask acceptance could take time, psychology professor says

(The Center Square) – The decision to wear a mask or face-covering in public is becoming a divisive and sometimes political statement in a brewing culture war over containing COVID-19 and some have likened it to the early resistance to the mandatory use of seat belts in vehicles.

Many Illinois businesses require face coverings, but some customers still refuse. Northern Illinois University Professor of Psychology Brad Sagarin said some Americans just don’t like being told what to do.

“We have a natural reaction to people telling us things that we have to do,” he said. “If we feel like our choices or our freedoms are being taken away, we will naturally and automatically resist that.”

He said it was understandable that some people remain skeptical. At the beginning of the pandemic, many public health officials said the general public didn’t need face coverings. That changed as it became clear that infected people could spread the virus before they show symptoms and that COVID-19 could be airborne for an extended period.

Sagarin said it is unfortunate that mask-wearing has become a political issue.

“If someone believes if that wearing a mask or not wearing a mask is an expression of what they believe politically, it is going to be pretty difficult to convince them to do differently than they want to,” he said.

Dr. Seth Gillihan wrote in “Psychology Today” that the mask debate has an economical connection.

“Masks are also linked to the broader debate about the disease threat from the coronavirus versus the devastating impact that social distancing has had on our economy,” he said. “This controversy again has fallen out on political lines, with the right placing a relatively greater emphasis than the left on the need to restart the economy. “

Sagarin said Americans got mixed messages from political and health leaders early on, which caused some of the division. However, he said he thinks the more Americans would use face coverings if President Donald Trump did.

“If our leader would speak with one voice on this issue, it would really persuade people,” Sagarin said. “There are plenty of other things to argue about. I really wish they weren’t arguing about mask-wearing.”

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