Face masks image by volha AdobeStock_334285027 [Converted] copy

Theory says people will often do the exact opposite of what they are asked to do

President of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan, has said that everyone should have a face covering to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and they should not leave home without having one in their possession.

His call came after a new review of evidence reinforced the benefits of face coverings and even suggests they may protect the wearer as well as those around them. he said:

“The virus has not been eliminated, so as we lift lockdown and people increasingly interact with each other we need to use every tool we have to reduce the risk of a second wave of infection.

“There are no silver bullets but alongside hand washing and physical distancing, we also need everyone to start wearing face coverings, particularly indoors in enclosed public spaces where physical distancing is often not possible.”

However, the British public are much less likely to wear face coverings in public compared to other countries, including the United States. Venki Ramakrishnan said:

“You only need to go on public transport, where they are supposed to be mandatory, to see how many people are ignoring this new rule based on the growing body of evidence that wearing a mask will help protect others – and might even protect you.”

Commenting on why people are refusing to wear face masks, Dr Robby Allen of Cranfield University, said:

“What we are seeing is not a new phenomenon. In the 1960s the psychologist Jack Brehm’s work on Reactance Theory established that people have an internal motivation to reclaim their sense of freedom when they feel it is being taken away from them.

“Reactance theory declares that we each have behavioural freedom and we will often do the exact opposite of what we are asked to do.

“There is an abundance of science that shows the dangers of smoking, being overweight or indulging in excessive alcohol consumption. Deaths from these are mostly behaviour related and largely preventable and there have been many successful campaigns at reducing harmful behaviour.

“However, there is still a core that will wilfully disregard medical advice and do completely the opposite.

“The reason often cited for not taking note of sensible advice is a reluctance to give up a way of life, a freedom. The level of reactance is theorised to be positively correlated to the relative importance of the threatened freedom.

“We have seen this in the way many have willingly obeyed the orders of the state and medical advice as a means of serving the greater good – whilst others have challenged expertise and authority.

“Those that are more reactant will actively resist rules and regulations and can become self-righteous in their desire for autonomy.

“They will also often display anger in their desire for autonomy.”

Wearing a mask in a shop was “basic good manners

Venki Ramakrishnan made his comments after two new reports were published on face coverings.

The first presented evidence for the effectiveness of wearing face coverings in reducing the risk of transmission and presents new evidence suggesting that face coverings could also provide protection to the wearer.

The second report, by the Royal Society’s SET-C (Science in Emergencies Tasking – COVID-19) group and published jointly by the British Academy and the Royal Society, looked at the effectiveness of different face mask types and coverings and isolates behavioural factors that have limited adherence. Such as public understanding of the virus transmission, risk perception, trust, effectiveness of public messages and perceived barriers to wearing a mask.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, senior minister Michael Gove said wearing a mask in a shop was “basic good manners“. According to the BBC, senior government sources have said the issue is being kept under review.

Currently, face coverings are compulsory on public transport in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, they are also mandatory in shops. Wales recommends masks but they are not compulsory.

Last month, the World Health Organisation issued updated guidance recommending that everyone should wear face masks in public areas where there is a risk of transmission of COVID-19.