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We only have each other – the psychology behind not wearing a mask

3 July 2020 10:56 AM

"I’m outside; I don’t need a mask. If you’re uncomfortable, stay at home." Sociologist Steven Robins tries to make sense of it.

Ubuntu talks to empathy and compassion – it’s often translated as “I am because you are”.

In the time of Covid-19, read: “We only have each other. My face mask protects you, and yours protects me.”

Caring for you is caring for me - our interests are inextricably intertwined.

Most people get it – some, not so much (yet)

When outdoors exercising, it’s heartening to see so many people looking out for each other by wearing masks, as we’re mandated to do.

  • Why do some people not bother?

  • What’s the psychology behind that?


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Lester Kiewit (in for Refilwe Moloto) interviewed Professor Steven Robins of the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University.

He recently took to social media to share how he’s trying – and often failing – to convince people to wear their masks when going out.

It’s not only about our own health, but also about the health of others – we are a herd, literally.

I often ask people - when they’re not wearing a mask - why not. One response is, ‘I’m outside – I don’t need a mask. If you’re uncomfortable, stay at home’. What does that represent? … There should be research on this topic…

Professor Steven Robins - Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology - Stellenbosch University

Wearing even a cloth mask reduces transmission. It makes the other person safer.

Professor Steven Robins - Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology - Stellenbosch University

For some people, there’s a sense that it’s all about themselves… Well, think about your parents and grandparents! … It’s often men… they’re not thinking so much about the other… liberty above everyone else…

Professor Steven Robins - Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology - Stellenbosch University

Comorbidities are very widespread in South Africa. A sensitivity to that… Masks signal an understanding of the vulnerability of others… It’s a basic, decent thing to do to put on your mask.

Professor Steven Robins - Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology - Stellenbosch University

Initially, there was confusion… a fear that frontline health workers won’t be able to access them. Now, it’s clear that wearing a homemade cloth masks helps…

Professor Steven Robins - Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology - Stellenbosch University

In Hong Kong [7.5 million people packed more densely than almost anywhere else in the world], people did not wait for the government to tell them to wear masks… You have seven deaths… even though people are taking to the streets to protest… the masks are working!

Professor Steven Robins - Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology - Stellenbosch University

Running in Sea Point – I estimate about 80% to 90% of people are wearing masks. I’ve been to Philippi and the townships – a lot of people are wearing masks. I think people are adapting. There’s a growing realisation that this could be around for a long time.

Professor Steven Robins - Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology - Stellenbosch University

Listen to the interview in the audio below.


3 July 2020 10:56 AM

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