To wear a mask or not to wear a mask: The psychological impacts of returning to normal


COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – To wear a mask or not to wear a mask… with local and CDC mask-wearing guidelines lifted for vaccinated people, it’s still a question many are asking themselves. 

Humans are tribal by nature; as masks have become politicized, wearing or not wearing one can have added social pressure and implications. After a year of hearing “protect your neighbor” and  “slow the spread” some vaccinated people are having trouble letting go of them.

“The masks gave them this sense that they were doing something positive for something that was completely out of their control,” Dr. Brandt A. Smith, Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbus State University said.

“Other people were complying begrudgingly because if you weren’t wearing the mask they couldn’t get into the grocery store to get the stuff they needed. They were feeling very limited in their freedom and this was a situation we call psychological reactants… when people think their freedom of behavior is being constrained on infringed upon, they’ll push back.”

In the heat of the pandemic, the rules were cut and dry…. Wear a mask and stay social distanced. Now, for vaccinated people, the grey area means they are finding themselves adapting their behavior to their environment. 

“We also have this normative social influence,” Smith said. “You don’t really know how to behave in a particular setting or situation so you watch everybody else.”

The grey area can mean added anxiety for people as they try to resume normalcy this summer.

The most important thing? You’re not alone if you’re feeling this way. 

“Behaving in an abnormal manner in an abnormal situation is normal,” Smith said. “We’re thrust into an environment that we’re not evolved for that we’re not accustomed to… of course we’re going to act weird.”


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