How to Counter the Anti-Mask Backlash? Empathy

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay reporter

MONDAY, July 27, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Amid a pandemic, many Americans still view face mask warrants as an assault on their personal freedoms, rather than a way to protect themselves and others from COVID -19.

But a group of researchers at Duke University say the mask’s reaction can be reversed – provided the efforts to do so are based on empathy, not judgment.

As coronavirus cases in the United States skyrocket, face mask warrants have been issued by a growing number of cities, states and national retailers. Mandates make sense, health experts say.

“I think the masking of the face is a very important element [of curbing the spread of COVID-19] and should be done in this epidemic, “said Dr Robert Brook, RAND Corporation’s senior chairman of the health services program, in an HD Live! interview!” This is one of the few things we can do to slow down the pandemic.

But there hasn’t been a national public health campaign to tell Americans why face masks work and how to use them properly, Brook added.

May Chu, clinical professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Colorado, agrees.

“We have to teach people how to wear it, how to take care of it and when to use it,” she said in the same HD Live! interview.

In the meantime, some Americans are reluctant to wear a mask. When this happens, the best approaches to changing minds are based on understanding and empathy, according to Gavan Fitzsimons. He is professor of marketing and psychology at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

“Many people perceive that some of the public health guidelines are direct threats to their freedoms,” Fitzsimons noted. About a third of the population has “an extremely strong ‘reactive response’ when their freedom is threatened,” he said.

And those who feel threatened will go to great lengths to try to restore their freedom, Fitzsimons added, and efforts to change their mind will not work if those efforts are seen as threatening as well.


Convincing skeptics

“How we communicate will be very critical here,” Fitzsimons said in a Duke University telebrief this week. For example, he questioned the value of characterizing those who refuse to wear masks as “selfish,” a term used recently by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.

“Obviously the governor is well-meaning. But using a term like ‘selfish’, I think, is going to cause people who are already digging to dig even harder,” Fitzsimons said.

His suggestion: help maskers resisting “feel that they have the freedom to make a choice.”

This approach could be a game-changer when affected store managers confront unmasked customers, he said.

“If you want to minimize resistance, you want to try and give that buyer a little bit of power,” Fitzsimons said. “Rather than going up to you and saying, ‘Ma’am, you must wear a face mask,’ you could say, ‘Ma’am, local law says you must wear a face mask. We have three different types, all of which are comfortable. Which of them would you like to use today? “

This tactic may not always work, he acknowledged, “but it helps. If the person who feels their freedom is threatened feels like part of the solution, they are more likely to comply with it. Their giving a choice helps a lot. “

Speaking at the same briefing, Lavanya Vasudevan, assistant professor of community and family medicine at Duke, offered similar advice to combat the doubts some Americans have already expressed about getting a COVID-19 vaccine when ‘it will be available.

“There are a lot of people who are not convinced that there is a pandemic or who do not think that COVID is a threat to them because of their age or some other circumstance,” she said. note. “We really need to start explaining why the vaccine is important to them in terms of benefits rather than threats.”

The focus, she said, must be on building community confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccines. And Vasudevan echoed Fitzsimons’ central point: “It’s always good to communicate in terms of benefits rather than threats. Talking to people about the benefits of wearing a mask, the benefits of vaccinations is always better.”


Another key to success is to call on trusted local leaders to get the message out.

Voices of Trust

“If it’s at the national level, it seems more distant,” Vasudevan warned, adding that “people want facts, but more importantly, they want facts from people they trust.”

It helps to mobilize “voices of trust within the community,” said Benjamin Anderson, assistant professor of science and global health at Duke Kunshan University in China. “It could be religious institutions, it could be service organizations. Having this message reaching down to the local and personal level gives a more impactful message.”

Why? Because if “people don’t want to be told what to do, they want to be told what their peers and community members are doing,” Vasudevan explained. “If something is a standard in a community, it’s more likely to be accepted.”

Of course, national numbers can reinforce acceptance or fuel confusion, Anderson and Fitzsimons noted.

For example, Anderson said, China’s “very centralized approach” to the coronavirus included “a very consistent message in terms of how the response was going to be deployed, what measures were going to be put in place.”

In contrast, the US government has largely chosen to defer to the states on these decisions. This has created “a lot of confusion, because people see different things presented to communities in terms of what is effective, what is not effective,” he added.

The result has been an unnecessary politicization of the masks, Fitzsimons said. “The problem, of course, is that once there’s been the connection between politics and wearing a mask, that’s where the feeling that the freedom not to wear a mask is. become important to many people, ”he noted.

Still, “we’ve seen some movement in recent days across the political spectrum to unify behind a mask / face covering strategy,” Fitzsimons added.

Maybe it works: a new Associated press-NORC’s Center for Research on Public Affairs poll shows three in four Americans now believe masks should be worn by people when they leave home.

HealthDay WebMD News


SOURCES: July 22, 2020, press briefing with: Gavan Fitzsimons, PhD, professor, marketing and psychology, Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, Durham, NC; Benjamin Anderson, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Science and Global Health, Duke Kunshan University, Kunshan, China; Lavanya Vasudevan, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Community and Family Medicine, Duke University, Durham, NC

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