Men are more likely than women to perceive face masks as infringing on their freedom


Men and women are equally likely to wear face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research. But the study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, indicates that men and women tend to have different reasons for not wearing them.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, I have been fascinated by the varied reactions to face mask wearing. I expected it to be a relatively uncontroversial behavior, and we can now see that I was quite wrong about this assumption,” said researcher Matt C. Howard, an assistant professor in the Mitchell College of Business at the University of South Alabama.

“Regarding this specific study, I had read several popular press outlets claiming that men were less likely to wear face masks. Recent research has shown that men and women are becoming more similar in active health behaviors (e.g., drinking, smoking), whereas men and women have long been similar in more passive health behaviors (e.g., vaccination). So, I figured that I would investigate these conflicting findings between the popular press outlets and prior academic research.”

For his study, Howard recruited 1,979 individuals from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform for three surveys conducted in April, May, and June. As part of the surveys, participants completed the Face Mask Perceptions Scale, a psychological assessment that gauges justifications for not wearing face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

When asked how often they had worn a face mask when going into public, there was no significant difference between men and women’s responses. But Howard found that men and women had differing perceptions of face masks.

“I did find that men have slightly stronger perceptions that face masks infringe upon their independence, whereas women have slightly stronger perceptions that face masks are uncomfortable. While these effects were small, they nevertheless suggest that any interventions to promote face mask wearing may be more effective if they target different perceptions for different people,” Howard told PsyPost.

Men were more likely to say they had not worn a face mask in public because “I do not like feeling forced to do something” or “I value my independence.” Women, on the other hand, were more likely to say they had not worn a face mask in public because “It is difficult to breathe when wearing a face mask” or “Face masks cause me to overheat.”

The findings shed new light on the relationship between gender and face mask perceptions. But there is still much for scientists to learn about this new topic.

“There are still a massive number of questions that need to be answered regarding face mask wearing. I am starting to see some interesting studies that investigate subconscious aversions to face masks, such as perceptions of illness and disease in the wearer,” Howard explained.

“And, I continue to see a steady stream of research identifying predictors of face mask wearing. Many of these are still limited to surface-level characteristics (e.g., age, gender), but I am excited to see the next wave of research investigating deep-level characteristics (e.g., personality).”

“I see this as an area that students — both undergraduate and graduate — can get involved in research and publishing. Almost any studied relation can provide important insights into face mask wearing, as very little is known about the behavior. So, I would highly encourage students to start collecting data on face mask wearing, face mask perceptions, as well as their favorite other constructs to see if any impactful relations emerge,” Howard added.

The study, “Gender, face mask perceptions, and face mask wearing: Are men being dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic?“, was published online October 8, 2020.TrendMD v2.4.8