The Psychology Behind Why People Won’t Wear Masks

The reason why so many “karens” won’t cover up goes deeper than entitlement


I’ve always known people were ridiculous, but it took a global pandemic for me to realize how much. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, are dying each day, and there’s no real cure. All you can do is try not to get it, and hope that your immune system is strong enough to hold out if you do get it.

I think it’s safe to say one of our biggest defenses against the spread of COVID-19 is masks. Wear a cloth mask out in public, and you protect other people from catching the virus from you.

It’s not a tall order — I’d rank it up there with covering your cough or not sneezing on people.

Yet, people have turned mask-wearing into a big deal. I’m sure we all remember some of the anti-mask protests in May and June — where people across the country railed against legal mandates to wear face masks (in fact, some of those protestors were even armed, but they still got better treatment from law enforcement than anybody protesting for BLM).

More recently, one woman freaked out when her dentist refused to treat her without a mask. Another maskless-man got turned away at a Walmart, and still tried to fight his way inside.

You’d think with all the pushback that health experts were asking people to cut off some toes or pull out teeth — not cover their faces when they went to the grocery store.

So, why all the outrage? Well, here’s why some psychologists think people won’t put on their masks:

Everyone wants to be a rebel

According to Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist, the anti-mask movement might have to do with rebellion. “People naturally rebel when they’re told what to do, even if the measures could protect them,” he said, “People value their freedoms…they may become distressed or indignant or morally outraged when people are trying to encroach on their freedoms.”

Look, being a rebel can be cool if it means eating ice cream for dinner or sneaking food into the movie theater — but not if it means putting other people’s health at risk.

Wearing a cloth mask, especially in the middle of the summer, isn’t super comfortable, but I also wouldn’t say that it takes away your freedom. It’s a minor inconvenience, but it’s also basic human decency.

If you can hold the door open for someone, can’t you protect them from a deadly virus?

If you want to rebel against something, stick to stuff that won’t land you or someone you know in the hospital.

People think it makes them look weak

Another clinical psychologist, David Abrams, says that people may view masks as a form of vulnerability.

“To some, wearing a mask means admitting a fear they may not have consciously confronted yet,” he said, “Many view the mask as a walking symbol of vulnerability that tells others you’re scared about contracting the virus. So to compensate for that fear, and as a show of strength, they may reject the masks entirely.”

Let’s be clear: living amidst an invisible killer is terrifying. It’s terrifying if you work in healthcare, in grocery stores, restaurants, or even if you just have to pick up a gallon of milk at the convenience store.

Masks have become a symbol for COVID-19, but they shouldn’t be. Ultimately, masks are just a precautionary measure — the same way you lock your door at night or don’t hang out at rest stops at three in the morning.

We’re all scared, and that’s okay — it’s natural to fear a virus, especially when we’ve seen its devastating effects. Seeing other people wear masks doesn’t make me think they’re weak — it makes me think they’re being safe.

The expert advice can be a little confusing

For a lot of people, the pandemic came out of nowhere, and researchers are still trying to figure out how to fight it. At first, the World Health Organization didn’t recommend masks at all unless you were sick, or caring for someone who was.

With more research, health experts realized how important masks were, and they began recommending them all the time. The guidelines might have changed, but unless you’ve been away from electricity for the past two months, you should know how important masks are by now.

The Takeaway

There are some exceptions to wearing a mask — like if you’ve got a breathing problem, you’re a toddler, or someone is trying to read your lips — but none of the reasons above fit the bill. We won’t have to wear masks forever, but we’ll likely need them for the foreseeable future, so it’s time to get on board.

Fighting off COVID-19 may be a battle, but our weapons aren’t guns or swords — they’re bars of soap and cloth masks.

When I’m not writing, you can usually find me hanging out with my cats.

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