In the absence of widespread vaccination for COVID-19, governments and public health officials have advocated for the public to wear masks during the pandemic. The decision to wear a mask in public is likely affected by both beliefs about its efficacy and the prevalence of the behavior. Greater mask use in the community may encourage others to follow this norm, but it also creates an incentive for individuals to free ride on the protection afforded to them by others. We report the results of two vignette-based experiments conducted in the United States (n = 3,100) and Italy (n = 2,659) to examine the causal relationship between beliefs, social norms, and reported intentions to engage in mask promoting behavior. In both countries, survey respondents were quota sampled to be representative of the country’s population on key demographics. We find that providing information about how masks protect others increases the likelihood that someone would wear a mask or encourage others to do so in the United States, but not in Italy. There is no effect of providing information about how masks protect the wearer in either country. Additionally, greater mask use increases intentions to wear a mask and encourage someone else to wear theirs properly in both the United States and Italy. Thus, community mask use may be self-reinforcing.


Copyright: © 2021 Bokemper et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Cite as

Bokemper, S., Cucciniello, M., Rotesi, T., Pin, P., Malik, A., Willebrand, K., Paintsil, E., Omer, S., Huber, G. & Melegaro, A. 2021, 'Experimental evidence that changing beliefs about mask efficacy and social norms increase mask wearing for COVID-19 risk reduction: Results from the United States and Italy', PLoS ONE, 16(10), article no: e0258282 . https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0258282

Downloadable citations

Download HTML citationHTML Download BIB citationBIB Download RIS citationRIS
Last updated: 16 June 2022
Was this page helpful?