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Why more men aren't wearing masks — and how to change that

Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

Darth Vader, the Minnesota Vikings and Mike Pence, who's wearing a "Make America Great Again" face mask, walk into a bar.

That may sound like the setup to a very funny (and perhaps risque) joke, but it also hints at how to solve a deadly serious problem: getting more people -- particularly the swaggeringly toxic mask-averse males of the species -- to don face coverings in public to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Although there's certainly no shortage of antimask women out there (including a few in my own family tree), we're focusing specifically on men here for two reasons. First, men are statistically more adversely affected by COVID-19 than women.

Second, a recently released study authored by researchers Valerio Capraro of London's Middlesex University and Helene Barcelo of the Mathematical Science Research Institute in Berkeley found that in comparing the mask-wearing intentions of men and women, men are less likely than women to wear face coverings.

That probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who has watched the president of the United States and his No. 2, the latter of whom happens to be the chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, fly in the face of science by not covering their own faces in public. Or maybe your lack of surprise comes from the curious sight of a family unit who has caught your eye: The mother and children are dutifully mask-clad out in public but, for some reason, the father is not.

It was the latter scenario happening on a Berkeley street that inspired mathematician Barcelo to crunch the numbers on gender differences and mask-wearing, she explained to The Times.

 

"They were outside on bicycles -- a papa, a mama and two kids," Barcelo said. "And the mama and the two kids were wearing masks. And the papa had a mask, but it was around his neck, not on his face. I thought, 'OK, maybe there is something there,' and Valerio and I decided to look into it more carefully."

Posted online in mid-May, the resulting study of 2,459 U.S. participants, "The Effect of Messaging and Gender on Intentions to Wear a Face Covering to Slow Down COVID-19 Transmission," offers an interesting glimpse into why some men resist the call to cover up -- and provides some clues as to how to influence that behavior. In addition to finding that men are less inclined to wear a face mask, the study found that men are less likely than women to believe they will be seriously affected by the coronavirus.

Further, it found a big difference between men and women when it came to the self-reported negative emotions that come with that simple strip of fabric across the face.

As study co-author Capraro explained, "We asked (participants to rank) on a scale of one to 10 how much they agreed with five different statements: 'Wearing a face covering is cool,' 'Wearing a face covering is not cool,' 'Wearing a face covering is shameful,' 'Wearing a face covering is a sign of weakness' and 'The stigma attached to wearing a face covering is preventing me from wearing one as often as I should.'

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