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Durham University News


English speakers some of the least likely to wear face masks

(17 July 2020)

Recent research by Professor Sascha Kraus suggests Brits, Americans and other English speakers are some of the least likely to wear face masks and social distance in the world. The only native speakers, researched by the academics, less likely to following health precautions are German speakers.

Many European countries have already implemented mandatory face masks in shops at the beginning of their lockdowns, however the research is particularly pertinent for the UK, given the mandatory wearing of masks in shops, is to be implemented from 24 July.

The research

This was conducted by Professor Sascha Kraus alongside an international team of academics. The researchers wanted to understand the predictors of COVID-19 voluntary compliance behaviours, and which native speakers were most likely to follow these.

They conducted a survey of over 8,300 respondents from 70 countries across the world, interviewing respondents via the online platform The interviews focused on beliefs and attitudes towards three key areas of COVID-19 prevention;

  1. following government recommendations,
  2. taking health precautions (including mask wearing, social distancing, handwashing, and staying at home); and
  3. encouraging others to take health precautions too.

The results

Interestingly, researchers found that Italian and French speakers were most likely to follow their own government’s guidelines and recommendations, whilst Spanish and English speakers were much less likely to stick to the rules.

In terms of specifically taking health precautions such as mask wearing, social distancing, avoiding large crowds, and handwashing, Mandarin and Italian speakers were most likely to be actively cautious, whilst English and German speakers were least likely to go the extra mile to be careful.

And, in terms of informing and encouraging others to comply with precautions, Mandarin and Portuguese speakers were most likely to do so, whilst German and English speakers were least likely to advise others.

Additional findings

The researchers also found women were more likely than men to be vigilant across the board, while there was no link between age and rule-following.

People’s beliefs and characteristics, such as openness, trust in government, how vulnerable they are and their general disruptiveness was also reviewed. It was found that compliance with the rules was closely linked to the belief that the measures were effective and protected health, and people’s personality traits had a strong influence on whether they were cautious. Conscientious, extroverted and open-minded people were more likely to be so.

This study, just published in the journal Global Transitions, is particularly relevant, given the easing of lockdown across many countries meaning that countries’ governments are becoming more reliant on people following all the guidelines set out, advising each other on these, and also being as cautious as possible in terms of mask wearing, social distancing etc., to stop another mass spread of the virus.

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