Do people who wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 compensate for that protection by engaging in riskier behavior?

Last updated: January 24, 2022
No. There are not many studies on this question. Keep in mind that as more studies on this question are published, the answer may change.
This short answer was generated by aggregating the answers that each of the studies below gave to the question (as indicated by State of K members) and adjusting for source quality and other factors. If key studies are missing or the answers attributed to individual studies are incorrect, the above answer could be wrong. For medical questions, don't rely on the information here. Consult a medical professional.

Chart summary of 2 studies examining this question

All answers are assigned by State of K users. The label Couldn't Identify means that State of K was not able to determine whether a study answers the question "yes" or "no". This could be due to several factors. One possibility is that a study found some evidence to indicate that the answer to the question is "yes" and some evidence to indicate that the answer is "no". This often happens when a study uses two or more proxies to study the same phenomenon (i.e. firearm sales figures and self-reported firearm ownership rates as proxies for the prevalence of firearms) and the proxies yield different results when looking for correlations with another phenomenon (i.e. firearm-related deaths). Alternatively, the label may be applied if the phenomenon under study (i.e. whether breast milk improves cognitive function) is true for one group, but not another (i.e. true for girls, but not for boys). Yet another possibility is that a study found there was insufficient evidence to reach a conclusion regarding the question. Finally, the full text or abstract of a study may not have been written clearly or was inaccessible. This would make it difficult to determine how a study answered a question.

All labels of Literature Reviews and source quality are assigned by State of K. All labels of High Quality Source are assigned based on whether the publication in which the article appeared was ranked as Q1 by Scimago Institutions Rankings. Certain well-regarded think tanks are also given this label.

Total studies in list: 2
Sorted by publication year
Face Masks Increase Compliance with Physical Distancing Recommendations during the COVID-19 Pandemic
"Governments across the world have implemented restrictive policies to slow thespread of COVID-19. Recommended face mask use has been a controversially discussed policy, among others, due to potential adverse e↵ects on physical distancing.Using a randomized field experiment (N=300), we show that individuals keep a significantly larger distance from someone wearing a face mask than from an unmaskedperson. According to an additional survey experiment (N=456), masked individuals are not perceived as being more infectious than unmasked ones, but they arebelieved to prefer more distancing. This result suggests that, in times where maskuse is voluntary, wearing a mask serves as a social signal for a preferred greaterdistance that is respected by others. Our findings provide strong evidence againstthe claim that mask use creates a false sense of security that would negatively a↵ectphysical distancing."
Anna Helen Balleyer
Gyula Seres
2020 Rationality & Competition
Social and behavioral consequences of mask policies during the COVID-19 pandemic
"The results from both data analyses indicate that, independent from policies, wearing masks is a social contract wherein compliant people perceive each other more positively, and noncompliance is socially punished. Mask wearing is also related to adhering to other protective behaviors, and it signals prosocial concerns. This is consistent with previous work from the severe acute respiratory syndrome pandemic demonstrating that more empathic people are more likely to wear masks (15) and that empathy can be regarded as a prerequisite for prosocial behavior (16). The results are based on self-reported survey data, not real-life observations. Thus, the answers may only approximate actual behavior under different policies. Nevertheless, they provide a useful estimate of the policies’ potential social and behavioral consequences. Modeling results suggest that “universal (80%) adoption of moderately (50%) effective masks could prevent on the order of 17–45% of projected deaths over two months” (calculated for New York state) (4). While uptake under a voluntary policy is reasonably high, it is still not sufficient to meet these required thresholds (4). Importantly, since mask wearing is a social contract (12), high uptake is necessary to prevent stigmatization. While this social dynamic can, in fact, increase mask wearing under a voluntary policy as well, it comes at the cost of social pressure, and it could increase the potential for polarization (e.g., when not wearing masks becomes a social sign of rejecting measures; see Fig. 1A).In conclusion, should countries or communities want people to wear masks (e.g., to curb local outbreaks or to reduce transmission in future waves of the pandemic), introducing a mandatory policy along with explicit communication of the benefits of mask wearing (risk reduction, mutual protection, positive social signaling) and the benefits of the mandatory policy (fairness, less stigmatization, higher effectiveness) appears advisable."
Philipp Schmid
Sarah Eitze
Lisa Felgendreff
Philipp Sprengholz
Lars Korn
Cornelia Betsch et al
2020 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
High Quality Source