Covid Mask Project

Face masks increase compliance with physical distancing recommendations during the Covid-19 pandemic

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many governments across the globe have enacted restrictive policies to minimize the spread of the virus. One of them was perceived especially controversial: mandatory face masks, eliciting the question of whether such a mandate would also have any potential adverse effects on health safety. Arguments against mandated face masks claim that medical masks would instill a false sense of security and cause individuals to partake in riskier behaviors (e.g. reduced hand hygiene and less physical distancing). Taking on a behavioral perspective on these mandates, Professor Anastasia Danilov and her colleagues investigate whether face mask policies have an effect on physical distancing. Further, they analyze the potential reasons behind physical distancing from masked and unmasked individuals.

In a randomized field experiment, the physical distance between individuals waiting in a line outside business stores was measured to analyze whether people (N=300) maintained a different distance from individuals who were or were not wearing a mask. Professor Danilov and co-authors find that individuals stay further away if the person in front of them is wearing a mask.

To investigate potential reasons behind this result, Professor Danilov and co-authors conduct an online survey of 456 individuals living in Germany. The results of the survey show that individuals wearing a mask are not perceived to be more sick or infectious as those who do not. However, they are believed to prefer keeping a greater distance towards other people.

Both the field experiment and survey were conducted in April 2020 before any mandated mask policy was established in Germany. Results suggests that face masks serve as a signal to others to adopt stricter precautions, leading to an increase in physical distancing.


Seres, G., Balleyer, A., Cerutti, N., Danilov, A., Friedrichsen, J., Süer, M. (2020). Face Masks Increase Compliance with Physical Distancing Recommendations During the COVID-19 Pandemic. CRC TRR190 Discussion Paper No. 253, available at, accepted for publication at Journal of the Economic Science Association