The impact of face masks on interpersonal trust in times of COVID-19

Samreen Malik, Benedikt Mihm, Malte Reichelt* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Despite the widespread use of face masks to combat COVID-19, little is known about their social and behavioral consequences. To understand the impact of face masks on interpersonal trust, we designed a novel experiment to assess the causal impact of face mask use on whether individuals follow economically relevant advice from a stranger. From a survey of more than 2000 US citizens, conducted during July and August 2020, we find that almost 5% fewer individuals trust advice when it is given by someone wearing a mask than when it is given by someone not wearing a mask. While, surprisingly, health-related risks do not seem to alter the way masks affect trust, the effects of masks are particularly large among individuals whose households face economic risks due to COVID-19 and those with below-average normative beliefs about mask wearing. Our results highlight the non-health-related meaning that face masks have developed during COVID-19 and suggest that mask use undermines trust in others among a substantial share of the US population.
Original languageEnglish
Article number17369
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

We thank Nageeb Ali, Dan Benjamin, Matthias Collischon, Eugen Dimant, Andreas Eberl, Paula England, Kinga Makovi, Max Mihm, and Blaine Robbins for helpful discussions and invaluable suggestions and comments.


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