Risk Compensation: Mitigating “I wear mask so I can go out more often” behaviours
Updated: Jun 3
Once the challenge of adherence to mask wearing is addressed, the next challenge is its implications on other behaviours. Like how having ABS in cars can make certain drivers more confident in driving at higher speeds, wearing masks can give a false sense of security that one is much safer now, given you are doing something that you usually would not do (especially having overcome substantial inertia). Therefore, this false sense of security can lead to compensatory behaviour which manifests into slacking off on other safety behaviours like maintaining physical distance, staying indoors etc.
Though this kind of compensating behaviours may not be observed at population level, a spectrum compensatory tendencies and behaviours amongst individuals is something to be careful about.
What can mitigate this behaviour?
Being cognizant of our fatigue in following precautionary behaviours, especially those for which benefits are non-salient or invisible like wearing a mask is a starting point. Communication strategies to ensure mask usage should be a part of a bundled approach that reinforces complementary value of recommended set of behaviours - physical distancing, staying indoor, washing hands, avoiding touching face etc.
Additionally, to reduce compensatory behaviour overall, it becomes vital to highlight interdependencies of benefits of following safe behaviours - for it to work, everyone needs to adhere - and negative implications of one’s behaviour on others if good practices are not followed (other-regarding preference). A sanction made salient can also go a long way in countering compensatory behaviours in wider domains.
Risky business: safety regulations, risk compensation, and individual behavior