The psychological impact of masks : Our lives have changed in a rapid and drastic way. As a society we have faced a situation for which we were not previously prepared. We are currently immersed in a “new normal” in which among other great changes is the use of the mask… how is it affecting us?
At PsicoAlmería we are observing many changes at a cognitive and behavioral level, both individual changes and in the new patterns of society.
The psychological impact of masks : How does the new habit of wearing a mask affect us psychologically?
The psychological impact of masks : Focusing initially on the individual, one of the most important changes experienced has been the initial rejection of the mask.
As individuals with ingrained beliefs of feeling free and with decision-making power and freedom, the obligatory nature of the new measure of the use of the mask is framed as incongruous with our belief system, so our response is rejection despite being a measure that protects us.
It is not an isolated case, since it has occurred in our history with other imposed measures, such as the anti-smoking law or the points on the driving license. These measures, although initially they have produced criticism and rejection by a part of society, after a period of habituation they seem normal to us, forming part of our lives.
The psychological impact of masks : Denial Movement and Cognitive Biases
Fortunately, most of the population is being responsible with this measure of the use of the mask and other related measures for the prevention of infections by COVID-19. But nevertheless, a small part of our society is generating a new denialist movement against the use of these measures. How does psychology explain it?
We are detecting significant cognitive biases. At the individual level, for example, it may happen that we have a personality in which we do not like to appear weak and the use of the mask makes us think that we seem vulnerable and afraid of infecting ourselves, avoiding its initial use.
Another mistake we are making is the result bias: “I have not been infected and I have not worn a mask, why use it?”, Therefore believing that we are not going to be infected in the future and not changing our habits.
But surely the most dangerous psychological effects that best explain the current denial movements are the bandwagon effect or drag effect, in which we do and believe in something for the simple fact that others in my environment or group do it. This effect is related to group thinking or herding behavior; we need to feel included in our social group, so it is easy to believe and act as my closest environment, or with whom I identify. This psychological trend occurs proportionally depending on how many people already have it, currently reflected in the denial movements against the use of masks or falsifying the COVID-19 disease.
Finally, another important psychological effect is the cognitive bias of underestimating danger, in which we believe that we are not going to get infected or that the disease (if we do get it) will be mild without complications, mistakenly believing that this bad luck happens to others, such as other serious existing diseases with a low probability of incidence.
The psychological impact of masks : Cognitive Behavioral Changes
The psychological impact of masks : After several months of using this garment, the mask, we have been adjusting to new patterns of behavior. One of the most important and possibly the one that is costing us the most to modify is our social way of greeting each other., being custom the “two kisses” or the good handshake and the smile, among other similar contact greetings.
As a consequence, we feel more “cold and distant”, which can easily cause changes in personality and self-concept, and in the worst case, be a trigger or a bad predictor in some psychological disorders.
On the other hand, with the use of the mask the importance of non-verbal behavior and expressions on faces becomes evident. In verbal communication we rely a lot on the gestures of other people, such as a smile, which makes us redirect our way of speaking and communicating. With the mask, we have lost that social, communicational and empathizing part.
Another important fact is that we have experienced an increase in people who do not hear well and are unaware of this deficit for the simple fact that they relied on complementary lip reading in their communications.
Something positive about the use of masks is the hypothesis that makes us look more handsome. In addition to the fact that we can take them personalized, having almost half of the face covered forces our brain to reinterpret the part that is missing in the faces we see. Following the concept of modal completion, our brain reinterprets what is missing in the most symmetrical and flattering way possible.
Some final tips
The psychological impact of masks : It is very important that the masks we use are approved so that they are safe and effective; This protection can also be achieved with hygienic fabric masks with built-in and reusable filters, also taking care of the environment.
Masks will be safe if they are certified and have passed all required laboratory tests.
Finally, this time is being difficult, and unfortunately not everyone can face it in the best way. If you experience anxiety or difficulties, PsychoAlmeria you will find specialized professional help (online and in person).
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