Wearing a mask psychology
The Masks That We Wear
It’s that time of year: the season when Halloween pop-up stores appear on every corner. Popular costumes range from the princesses in Frozen to Donald Trump and zombies—which are, I believe, the same outfit.
Source: Alexandr III Shutterstock
People go nuts about Halloween. That made me start thinking about the psychology behind the celebration. Halloween is actually an ancient Celtic holiday on which people believed they needed masks to protect themselves from bad spirits that roamed the earth on All Hallows' Eve.
Thousands of years later, people are still wearing masks. They hide behind anything from a false smile to Dr. Dre headphones to my personal favorite: people who wear dark glasses in the subway—and they aren’t even celebrities.
Then there are the emotional masks, the masks we hide behind because of fear. For example, if we are insecure, we might hide behind the mask of name-dropping. If we are unsure of our power, we can hide behind the mask of being a bully. If we don’t think the world loves us, we can hide behind a mask of anger. We mask the debt we’ve incurred to pay for lifestyles we can’t afford; we pretend things are fine at work when our jobs are on the line; we pretend things are okay in our marriages when there is distance.
What masks do you wear?
One of the most common reasons we wear masks is what I think of as Imposter Syndrome—the fear that the world is going to find us out. I’ve heard it described as feeling like a fake like you don’t really belong, or you aren’t really successful but are just posing as such. It’s like my Halloween costume at age 7: I dressed up as a zombie gypsy—something I believed to be terribly scary, until my next-door neighbor yanked off my mask and said, “Oh, it’s just you.”
One of our greatest fears is that if we show our true selves, the world will say, “Oh, it’s just you.” But being just you is actually the best and most perfect thing you could ever be. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken. ” Or if you are interested in the spiritual perspective, the psalmist wrote, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
There are three practical reasons why we should shed our masks. The first is to live to our potential. We have to bring all of who we are to what we do. There are numerous people who have our same skillsets, or maybe an even better one. But none of these people bring the same personality, creativity, and spirit to the job that you do. That’s something they can’t match. The irony is that we often mask that part of ourselves at work and lose our greatest potential.
The second reason is relief. It is exhausting to live an inauthentic life. You put on a mask or two or 10, then take a few off, then put a couple more on. It’s exhausting! Worst of all, you start forgetting who you really are. As comedian and actress Fanny Brice explained, “Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?”
The third reason is healing. When we wear masks, we carve a piece of ourselves out—withholding parts of ourselves as unworthy. But in relationships, we can’t be truly healed unless we offer up all the pieces. It’s like handing someone a broken vase and asking him or her to fix it but holding back two or three of the broken pieces. As one of the pastors of Hope City Church in Indianapolis, Indiana explained, “Masks make shallow what God has intended to be deep. Everything in our lives get cheated when we choose to hide behind our masks.”
We weren’t born with masks. We put them on, so we can take them off. Start with this simple exercise: Think about a negative message you have held onto. Ask yourself whether it is true? More than likely, the answer is no. And if it is not, then you have to ask these questions: Why am I carrying that message? If I put it down, what would happen? Probably nothing. The main risk we face is the world’s reaction. Opening yourself up threatens others; it invites them to reevaluate their own lives. Many times, it forces them to realize that they too have the power to change, but they haven’t.
Don’t let that stop you. Don’t pull your mask partially off then let the world scare you into putting it back on. As the poet E. E. Cummings wrote, “The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.”
Think about the masks you wear and commit to taking them off. Hold your gifts out to the world—no apology, no shame, no regrets. As the old saying goes, every creature has its rightful place, and in that place it becomes beautiful.
On the psychology and politics of wearing masks
Throughout the covid pandemic, there has been a constant concern that the public would be the weak point in the response—either unwilling or psychologically unable to abide by the measures necessary to control the spread of infection.
Sometimes, this concern has been expressed in specific (and racist) cultural terms. The freedom-loving British public, according to the government and others, would not wear the measures accepted by more conformist Asian societies.  In particular, we would not wear masks as (say) the Chinese are accustomed to do.
There is an irony in this claim, and also a profound misunderstanding of cultural practices as rooted in some timeless essence. For there is nothing traditional about Chinese mask wearing. Indeed, the imposition of masks was a deliberate political intervention by the Chinese Communist Party after 1949 as a symbolic break with tradition and a sign of modernity.  Equally, in the UK, the supposedly ingrained “cultural” aversion to masks very quickly evaporated once mask-wearing measures were introduced.
In June 2020, YouGov published an article which highlighted the “British population’s unique reluctance to wear face masks:” only 21% of UK respondents indicated that they were covering their faces in public. In July 2020, masks became obligatory in shops and supermarkets in England. In August 2020, the ONS “Coronavirus and the social impacts on Britain” survey reported that 96% of adults were wearing masks.
At other times, concerns about public fragility have been expressed as a disdain for human psychology in general, our supposed inability to act rationally, especially in a crisis, and to put up with restrictions for any length of time. Most notoriously the notion of “behavioural fatigue” was used to delay lockdown in March 2020.
Once again, there is an irony to this claim which was hotly disputed by psychologists and other behavioural scientists as having no scientific status and which was soon debunked by the remarkable levels of resilience during the eventual lockdown—even in the face of considerable adversity. [3,4]
However, “fatigue” is one of those zombie ideas which has the ability to come back and bother us, no matter how many times it is killed off. Even as levels of adherence (and particularly of mask-wearing) stay stubbornly high, I have been asked by the media at least weekly throughout the pandemic whether people are about to grow tired and abandon all caution in the face of the pandemic. The question was posed with particular intensity in the autumn of 2020 after SAGE mooted a “circuit-breaker.” It was posed in early 2021 when soaring cases led to a new lockdown. In each instance the response was the same (including in these pages): no, “fatigue” is not the issue; people are still adhering to measures, they are ahead of the Government in wanting robust measures, and if they are behaving in ways that spread the virus it is less because of psychological motivations than structural constraints—being required to go into work, lacking the resources to self-isolate. 
And now, once more, groundhog day is upon us. Just as the government’s “winter plan” moots the possibility of reimposing masks in certain spaces should the pandemic run still further out of control (as if 30,000 cases, nearly 1,000 hospitalisations a day and nearly 1,000 hospitalisations a week is not already enough to take action), The Guardian reports recent official figures with a screaming headline: “More than 4m stopped wearing masks in Britain, ONS data shows”. [6,7] Surely, even if it has taken much longer than expected, this is compelling evidence that people have finally run out of resilience and that there is no point in reinstituting covid measures since the population will simply ignore them?
What the data actually show, however, is that the percentage of people saying that they are wearing a mask in public at least some of the time has fallen from 98% to 89% between May and September. While that is indeed a significant drop, perhaps the more significant aspect of the data is that 9 in 10 people are still wearing masks even though the requirement to wear masks was largely removed in July. This is matched by more recent ONS data showing that 80% of UK respondents would support mask wearing becoming a requirement if hospitalisations rise.  It is also matched by unpublished data showing that, in early September, some 75% of respondents felt it was important to keep covid measures in place and 85% who felt it was important to wear face coverings—both an increase on the July/August figures. This reflects a more general tendency for public attitudes to track levels of infection.
All in all, then, the bottom line is that it is still wrong to use the growing, but still small minority who are refusing masks to obscure the large minority who are not, or to assume that public “fatigue” is a reason to abandon protective policies. It is not only wrong, but dangerous since, as I have previously argued and as ever more research shows, people’s assumptions about other people’s mask-wearing (and adherence more generally) influences their own behaviour. Indeed, even if individuals believe in the importance of masks, they won’t wear them if they think others are not. 
However, having stressed this bottom line, it does remain true that mask wearing is slipping and that it is important to address the factors which impact levels of adherence. One is simple accessibility. People fail to wear masks either because they can’t afford them or because they forget them. One study in Oslo found that distribution of free masks outside shops cut non-usage by nearly two-thirds from 8. 3% to 2.9%. 
Another factor is perceived need. While adherence to mask-wearing often declines with time, it has less to do with “fatigue” than with a sense of declining risk, for if there is no risk, why wear a mask? [11,12] Hence messaging about the importance of masks as an efficacious means of stopping infections is critical. When government indicates that infection doesn’t really matter (being unconcerned at the possibility of cases spiralling after the removal of restrictions on July 19th) it undermines the rationale for actions that limit infection.  But messaging is not only about what you say, it is equally about what you do. To tell others to wear masks in crowded spaces, but not to wear masks yourselves is a powerful signal that masks are not important. 
Perhaps most critically of all, policy and messaging are not separate things. Policy is messaging. It indicates the importance of a behaviour. That is why exhortations to wear masks in the summer of 2020 had little effect until legislation was introduced (leading, as we have seen, to compliance rocketing from some 20% to some 90%). But likewise, the removal of mask requirements sent a message in the opposite direction. If we want to enhance mask-wearing we need an alignment of government comms, government actions and government policy.
Of course, messaging is of little use if one doesn’t trust the messenger, which is why the (re-) establishment of trust is so critical to all interventions—and not only trust in Government authorities, but also in scientific and in medical authorities. [15,16] While we don’t have the space to address this in any detail, building trust is, perhaps, the most important behavioural dimension of the pandemic response—and a paternalistic belief in the psychological incapacities of the public is hardly a good starting point for building such trust. 
All these various factors apply to all covid measures: we need the means to adhere, we need the information to explain its importance, we need to trust the source of information. But there is one final factor which is particularly relevant to wearing face-masks, because unlike many other behaviours which are private (getting tested, getting vaccinated, washing hands), masks are a highly salient public sign that defines the identity of the wearer (or non-wearer).  They have intense symbolic value and hence the meanings attributed to mask wearing become of critical importance to whether masks are worn. We choose to wear masks (or not) because of what we want to say about ourselves and also what others will assume about us.
What is more, these meanings have become highly politicised in some places. In an era of resurgent populism, the right have used masks as a core symbol of elite oppression. Masks become muzzles.  The requirement to wear masks becomes an act of silencing. The success of this narrative is reflected in the way that use of masks associates negatively with Trump voting in the US and with Brexit voting in the UK. [20,21]
There is nothing inevitable about such associations. As we have already seen, masks can convey very different meanings, such as modernity and scientific rationalism. At other times and in other places they have come to signify solidarity and care for others.  The point is that levels of mask wearing are not dependent on ingrained cultural differences, but on situated processes of meaning making. These can operate at different levels. At a societal level, the role of Government is critical. In this regard the way that the lifting of mask regulations on 19 July was described as “Freedom Day” was highly unfortunate, compounded by the emphasis on “personal responsibility” rather than our “social responsibility” to act in ways that protect others and make them feel safe. Indeed, it was precisely such a sense of communal concern which underlay high levels of adherence in the first lockdown and which continue to be critical in terms of mask-wearing. [23-26]
The process of sense-making is equally critical at the level of groups and local communities. How can one draw on specific values and beliefs in order to determine the meaning of wearing masks for members of these collectivities? How is mask-wearing made normative or anti-normative? This is of crucial importance since such norms are critical to adherence in general and mask-wearing in particular. [27,28]
It is clear, then, that covid adherence—like all behaviours—is complex, a function of many different factors. Nonetheless, there is one simple overall conclusion to be drawn. In contrast to the discredited claims that were rife at the start of the pandemic, there is nothing inherent in human psychology which limits adherence (whether to mask-wearing or anything else) and thereby constrains politicians freedom of manoeuvre. Rather, the availability of resources, the understandings and meanings which shape action arise out of a political process. What politicians do in terms of making masks available, showing that masks are necessary and framing the meaning of mask-wearing in large part determines whether masks are worn or not.
In short, if the health secretary decides to exclude mask mandates it is not a matter of bowing to psychological reality, but of making a political choice.
Stephen Reicher, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St. Andrews
Yasemin Ulusahin, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St. Andrews
Competing interests: SR participates in the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and its subgroups, and is a member of Independent SAGE. SR participates in the advisory group to the Scottish chief medical officer.
1. This is a repeated theme in the evidence of Dominic Cummings to the Health and Care/Science and Technology Committees of the House of Commons on May 26t 2021: https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/2249/html/
16. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/american-public-health-experts-coronavirus-masks. html
Mask, I don't know you: how to show emotions when half of the face is covered
The masks needed today prevent not only the spread of infection, but also live communication - it is worse to hear us, not see half of the face, as a result, it is more difficult to show emotions and understand each other. Forbes Life figured out what barriers arise in communication and how they can be overcome
People are met not only by clothes - the image of a person is constructed in the mind of the interlocutor from many factors. Statistically, 9We perceive 3% of information non-verbally - not only in personal, but also in business communication. In communication, non-verbal information includes both appearance parameters and gestures, voice, facial expressions, kinesthetic sensations, and even smells.
Finished reading here
The benefits and necessity of wearing masks are obvious, but one cannot help but admit that now when communicating, especially with an unfamiliar person, it is almost impossible to discern his facial expressions, visual accents shift, the interlocutor is often less audible, and the perception of the surrounding reality changes in a mask. A study back in 2013 showed that even during a medical consultation, the advice of masked doctors was perceived more negatively by patients - they believed that masked specialists showed less empathy and compassion towards the patient.
How to build communication in a pandemic? You can, of course, use special masks with transparent inserts (for example, in California they developed such masks specifically for people who have hearing problems, so they perceive most of the information by reading lips - there are about 466 of them in the world, according to WHO million people). Or instead of a mask, choose a protective transparent screen. But still, in many cases, it is standard medical masks that provide the best protection - to facilitate communication in them, psychological and other techniques can be used.
- How to avoid fogging your goggles when you wear a medical mask
Be mindful of mask speech
The sound of your voice is important for both private and professional communication. Studies show that you can say the same words, changing only the tone of voice, and get a completely different response from the interlocutor. Studying the characteristics of the speech of charismatic leaders (Steve Jobs, for example) helped to identify several basic parameters that can be controlled to make your speech more understandable and attractive. Even with a mask.
Pauses. In a normal communication situation, a closed mouth of the interlocutor means that he has finished speaking or paused, while an open mouth, even in the absence of sounds, signals that the interlocutor wants to continue. Consciously pause to move on to another topic for a more structured perception of information or when you want to pass the word to the interlocutor.
Volume. The mask muffles the sound, but this does not mean that the volume of the voice should be mindlessly forced - if you do it wrong (straining the throat), you will not hear better, but the voice will acquire an unpleasant hysterical tone, and there will also be a danger of damaging the ligaments. “Of course, the mask dampens the sound, so you need to apply it in a mode that is different from the usual one. To do this, you need medium diaphragmatic breathing, roughly speaking, to breathe with the abdominal muscles - then the exhalation rests on the diaphragm, becomes more stable and prolonged. Such an exhalation allows you to transfer your voice to the middle register and speak, amplifying the sound not due to the tension of the vocal cords, but due to the greater air supply, ”explained the speech teacher at the theater. E. Vakhtangov, Associate Professor of the Department of the Theater Institute. B. Schukina Elena Laskavaya.
Accents and intonation. They are needed to convey the meaning of the phrase and avoid the monotony of speech. There is no need to invent anything - in the Russian language there are seven intonational constructions that carry a semantic load and give speech the beauty of sound. The first is to express completeness (in other words, lower your voice towards the end of a sentence to add force to your statement). Three more constructions are used for questions: for example, in phrases with interrogative words (why, why, where, how, what time), we unconsciously put the emphasis on them; if there is no interrogative word ("see you tomorrow?"), the intonation will be ascending followed by a decrease; and in compound questions (“I always wear a mask, and you?”), On the contrary, we use a falling-rising tone. The exclamation also plays with different shades - it can be soft, excited, or even with a slight irony (“what a great fellow you are!”). We use all these intonations without thinking - but when wearing a mask, they can serve as a conscious tool for improving communication.
Emotions. The mask creates a pocker face effect to some extent, so be sure to add emotion to your speech to evoke a response from the interlocutor. This can be done through the use of expressive constructions expressing approval, indignation and other emotions (“Wow!”, “It can’t be!”), As well as interjections. It also makes sense to literally pronounce emotions if there is no way to show them - for example, in normal mode we can express disapproval by pursing our lips, in a mask this reaction can simply be voiced: "I'm not sure I like this."
Articulation and breathing. “Consonants are heard less distinctly in a mask, so it is important to pay attention to this aspect. Increasing the clarity of articulation when communicating in a mask also occurs, oddly enough, due to breathing, because you can’t make articulation stronger with weak breathing either, ”says Laskavaya. With “correct” breathing, the inhalation should be exclusively nasal, and the exit should be phonation, that is, along with speech.
Use gestures and body language
Facial expressions are an important, but not the only component of non-verbal communication, do not forget about gestures and body language. Gesture serves as a kind of infographic of speech, allowing you to illustrate ideas in the best possible way. In business communication, gestures rarely carry an exclusively emotional load, more often they are a direct conductor of ideas.
There is no need to be like a mime and illustrate each word with a gesture - it is enough to increase the expressiveness of gestures by about 10% compared to your personal norm. It’s not worth worrying about not being understood - scientists at the University of Birmingham conducted a study according to which our gestures are a structured system of signs, we perfectly understand gestures that indicate a house, a desire to drink, a trajectory of movement, and so on.
The main movements are usually performed by the hands and fingers, which are recommended not to move far from the chest. Most gestures are used for enumeration, showing the relationship between parts, size, indicating the interlocutor, indicating closeness and openness, and expressing several basic emotions. Also, mirroring the gestures of the interlocutor, it will be easier for you to win him over.
Be mindful of psychological tricks
One of the important secrets of successful communication lies in understanding how mirror neurons work. By reflecting the posture, intonation, copying the manner of speech and even some phrases of the interlocutor, we can establish emotional contact, and our ideas will become more understandable to the interlocutor.
The body position is also important during communication, the researchers argue that the position of the legs and body can tell a lot about the intentions and desires of the interlocutor and is unconsciously read by the partner. The FBI devoted 25 years to this issue and came to the conclusion that the truth about a person is in his legs - the correct position of the legs for thousands of years has played an important role in human survival, so if a person intends to leave as soon as possible, his legs are unconsciously directed towards the exit. If the interlocutor is lying, he moves away further or turns his torso towards you, and the ends of his legs are directed in the other direction.
How can this data be used? These are body signals that we not only unconsciously reproduce, but also unconsciously read. If you want to give the impression of a person speaking the truth, stand facing the interlocutor in the most direct and stable position.
Smile with your eyes
Smiles, which used to be given and received for free, today seem to have become an inaccessible luxury. But the good news is that you can smile not only and not so much with your lips - studies prove that if the eyes express fear, anger, sadness or disinterest, then the smile is not perceived as happy and gives the interlocutor completely different feelings.
Tyra Banks called the smile the eyes of the covid era "smaize" (from the English smile and eyes - smile and eyes). She wrote a guide on how to smile with your eyes if you have a mask on your face. The main parameter by which we read a smile is the appearance of small wrinkles running up from the tips of the eyes. Banks made a video in which she demonstrates how to make a smile, the main secret is the focus and intensity of the look.
When possible, go online
Of course, many aspects of communication are lost when going online, but it’s still important to remember, but today there are no less restrictions offline - and the mask does not allow you to use the usual methods of communication, and social distance restricts many forms of social contact, such as handshakes and other tactile interactions.
Online you can communicate without a mask, use facial expressions, gestures and other means of creating a visual image (accessories, makeup, jewelry) in communication with colleagues and friends.
- Zoom will not help: how to solve business conflicts when you can’t talk
- It’s official now: “lockdown” is the main word of 2020 according to the Collins Dictionary
- “One or two average people in a team discourage everyone”: billionaire and CEO Netflix Reed Hastings on How to Build a Super Effective Team
Psychologist explained why being forced to wear masks can cause stress
Photo: zaoshukino. ru
October 17, 2020 21:25:00
The capital began to actively control the use of personal protective equipment: masks and gloves in public places. At the same time, some people continue to ignore the established rules, despite the continued increase in the incidence of coronavirus infection
Valery Ivanovsky, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Valaal School of Psychological Combat, explained that the stubborn refusal to use masks does not mean that the population is irresponsible. For some people, masks bring not only physical, but also psychological discomfort. Which, by the way, may be related.
According to the expert, the fact is that our emotions and self-perception are influenced by several factors at once. There are people to whom the mask causes discomfort: it makes breathing difficult, which means that the flow of oxygen decreases, a person cannot live without it, therefore, when putting on the mask, the brain immediately sends this threat signal, which calls out, as it may seem inexplicable rejection of the mask. Unconsciously we may perceive it as an attack on the vital functions. Moreover, some non-medical masks are made of such a dense fabric that it can really contribute to the occurrence of hypoxia.
But besides the physiological aspect, there is also a social aspect, notes the psychologist, “the fact is that in our life the mouth plays a huge functional and symbolic role.
According to the research of the Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Graves Penfield, one third of the parts of the brain are responsible for the control of the speech apparatus: lips, larynx and tongue, another third is “occupied” by the hands. Other organ systems are represented disproportionately less. From this we can conclude how important the speech apparatus is for us.
“Human speech is not just a means of communication, but also a way of knowing, describing the surrounding world. Through speech, a person forms his picture of the world. But at the same time, speech is also a kind of representation of the individual in this world. Therefore, the language is presented as a symbol of freedom and independence. It is not for nothing that the “right to speak” has historically demonstrated a high status in society, in contrast to this, the “mute slave”, who, through the deprivation of the right to speak, was pointed out to his subordinate position. And now, trying to put pressure on a person, to demonstrate the insignificance of his words and himself, as if they say: “Shut up!” - notes the specialist.
This, the psychologist believes, can be extrapolated to the whole society, in which one of the most important and valuable achievements is the ability to influence the government through voting. And the obligation to wear a mask to cover the mouth can unconsciously be perceived as an attempt to deprive the right to vote, which causes the so-called internal protest. Of course, in reality, the mask does not affect the implementation of voting rights, but psychologically it may look like that. One can also cite as an example such an act, common in places of deprivation of liberty, as the sewing up of one's mouth by prisoners. Which once again confirms the enormous symbolic significance of our speech apparatus.
“As a result, when we put on a mask, it affects a huge layer of deep biological and psychological factors. Therefore, it is not surprising that the minds of many people rebel against this, ”says the clinical psychologist. - The mask covers not only the mouth, but in general most of the face. As a result, a person himself cannot demonstrate his mood through his facial expressions, but also understand the attitude of others around him. An open face also speaks of the openness of the person himself, they demonstrate that he has nothing to hide. Accordingly, when you walk down the street and do not see faces, this is involuntarily perceived as secrecy, or even some kind of hostility. All this together causes stress, which can lead to maladjustment processes, directed both externally and internally. That is, either for some self-destructive actions, or for some aggressive acts against the external environment.