The Network for Integrated Behavioural Science  
University of Nottingham


To reduce the spread of Covid-19, governments around the world recommended or required minimum physical distancing between individuals, as well as either mandating or recommending the use of face coverings (masks) in certain circumstances. When multiple risk reduction activities can be adopted, people may engage in risk compensation. They may respond to reduced risk due to one activity by increasing risk due to another. We tested for risk compensation related to mask usage during the Covid-19 pandemic in two online experiments that investigated whether either wearing a mask or seeing others wearing masks reduced physical distancing. We presented participants with stylized images of everyday scenarios involving themselves with or without a mask and a stranger with or without a mask. For each scenario, participants indicated the minimum distance they would keep from the stranger. Consistent with risk compensation, we found that participants indicated they would stand, sit or walk closer to the stranger when either of them was wearing a mask. This form of risk compensation was stronger for those who believed masks were effective at preventing catching or spreading Covid-19, and for younger (18-40 years) compared to older (over 65 years) participants.

Details: OSF Preprints Working Paper 2020

Authors:  Ashley Luckman, Hossam Zeitoun, Andrea Isoni, Graham Loomes, Ivo Vlaev, Nattavudh Powdthavee, Daniel Read

Articles where this research was cited:

How wearing face masks can affect social distancing (Warwick Business School news article - August 2020)

Wearing face masks makes people more careless and less likely to abide by social distancing guidelines, research shows (Daily Mail online - August 2020)

Daniel Read and Ivo Vlaev were also interviewed by Sky News, Bloomberg, the Guardian and Russian Today. The paper was also shared with the Cabinet Office, NHS England, Public Health England, and the Department of Health and Social Care.

Ashley presented this research at the NIBS Workshop, 14-16 September 2020.  There is also a poster presentation online (published by the Society for Judgement and Decision Making).



Posted on Tuesday 24th November 2020

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