Experts: Collectivism plays part in residents’ mask wearing despite eased mandate

A sense of culture may play a large part in the reason why, despite most countries having ended mask wearing, residents in the city continue to use them despite the government’s eased mask-wearing mandate in most sites, according to psychology experts.

On February 27, mask wearing was no longer required in most places, such as integrated resorts, restaurants and most private sites, following a government announcement which stated that mask wearing will no longer be suggested for outdoor environment.

Though wearing masks outdoors is now optional, many people still wear masks while walking on the street or relaxing in a park. In many residential areas in Taipa and the Macau peninsula, mask-wearers still make up a significant portion of the crowd.

Illness is one reason. “I worry about the new flu,” said resident Ms. Lau. “Although I have recovered from Covid-19, I still think I should protect myself from the flu. And there may also be a new wave of the virus,” she told the Times.

To the Times, Angus Kuok, associate professor and programme coordinator of the Master of Organizational Psychology at the University of Saint Joseph (USJ), said that people may not have enough information about the virus, which makes them uncertain about the future. To avoid the possible negative outcome of a life without masks, they may choose to keep the masks. Culture, including the avoidance of uncertainty mentioned above, may be an impactful but imperceptible reason behind Macau people continuing to wear masks.

“I think one of the main reasons is uncertainty avoidance, especially the Chinese accepting less extent of uncertainty. Do we have a very clear picture of Covid [around the globe and in Macau?], the professor questioned.

“I do not think that anyone in Macau can provide a certain answer for any of these questions, therefore, to avoid uncertainty, better to keep wearing mask, [just like what we did] in the last three years,” he added.

“I am used to it,” a university student said. “I grab it with me naturally when I go out.” Another student said he felt uncomfortable without a mask, as though a mask is a clothing necessity.

However, experts believe that “some might be feel naked or exposed without the mask.”

Although people assumed they were just “used to” wearing masks, their collectivism may shape their mask-wearing habits.

After three years of pandemic control, wearing masks may be perceived as the “right thing to do” to avoid rule-breaking and show oneself as an upstanding member of society, explained another psychology scholar Maria Rita Silva.

Silva refers to data from China and considers Macau a tight society with collectivist habits, where the group is valued and rules are obeyed.

Conformity is not only exercised because of rules but also in a group, where people may choose to follow the majority.

“Collectivist people are thinking of ‘us’,” Cynthia Leong, another psychology expert, echoed.

“If we try to use this lens to see people’s wearing mask behaviors in Macau, it is not difficult to understand that the wear-mask behaviors have complex linkages and meanings behind them.”

For instance, assuming an individual is a collectivist, their motivation or “reasons” for wearing a mask could be: “Should I wear a mask today, even though it is no longer mandatory?”

Meanwhile, some people also wear masks because they do not want to stand out from the crowd.

The choice to wear masks may also be motivated by self-image and related considerations.

“I want to cover my face so that I do not need to do [my] makeup,” resident Ms. Chang explained. “It feels better not to spend time on makeup and sleep more instead” Ms. Wong had a similar thought, stating, “I can let go of my facial expression and pretend to be polite or concentrating when communicating with others” It was also discussed online that a popular way to feign politeness is to squint like one is smiling without moving one’s mouth, since masks will help to hide the mask-wearer’s actual expressions.

According to Costa, it is particularly common among young generations to wear masks as a shield from public judgement.

While reasons for wearing masks vary, many people choose not to wear masks wherever allowed. “I want to feel the fresh air,” Mr. Ao said, who removed his mask as soon as the obligation to wear one was lifted.

As a lover of outdoor exercise, he was eagerly anticipating the day when masks could be removed. His opinion is shared by many people who take off their masks and agree that fresh air is important. “I used to feel dizzy wearing a mask all day,” resident Ms. Choi said.

Many students also chose to take off their masks. “School is safe, and we don’t need to worry,” said Lei, a student, who is more worried that he might never know what his classmates look like if they continued to wear masks.

On the Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro or Rua do Cunha, where there are large crowds, many still exercise their freedom to not wear masks as the sunlight pours down and shines on their face. Staff Reporter

Categories Headlines Macau