Despite the widespread use of face masks to combat COVID-19, little is known about their social and behavioral consequences. To understand the impact of face masks on interpersonal trust, we designed a novel experiment to assess the causal impact of face mask use on whether individuals follow economically relevant advice from a stranger. From a survey of more than 2000 US citizens, conducted during July and August 2020, we find that almost 5% fewer individuals trust advice when it is given by someone wearing a mask than when it is given by someone not wearing a mask. While, surprisingly, health-related risks do not seem to alter the way masks affect trust, the effects of masks are particularly large among individuals whose households face economic risks due to COVID-19 and those with below-average normative beliefs about mask wearing. Our results highlight the non-health-related meaning that face masks have developed during COVID-19 and suggest that mask use undermines trust in others among a substantial share of the US population.


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Malik, S., Mihm, B. & Reichelt, M. 2021, 'The impact of face masks on interpersonal trust in times of COVID-19', Scientific Reports, 11, article no: 17369. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-96500-7

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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