The impact of face masks on interpersonal trust in times of COVID-19

Samreen Malik, Benedikt Mihm, Malte Reichelt* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number17369
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2021


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