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2020 Projects

Masking Our Risky Behaviors: How Licensing Allows Us to Disregard Social Distancing

Alexis Griggs ’21
Major: Psychology

Alexis Griggs ’21

Major: Psychology

Faculty Collaborator: Jason Weaver, Psychology

Moral licensing theory, which suggests that when people act morally they feel secure in their moral identity and are therefore more likely to rationalize acting poorly later (Effron et al., 2009), can help explain why individuals in the COVID-19 pandemic may substitute certain health precautions for one another while still feeling that they are remaining compliant with recommendations. We predicted that concerned individuals with more positive attitudes toward personal protective measures, such as mask wearing or hand washing, would go out in public more via increased justification use. Conservatives engaged in less social distancing behaviors than liberals. Controlling for political orientation, concern for COVID-19 predicted less going out in public and fewer hours spent away from home through more positive social distance policy attitudes and less justification use. However, concern also predicted less avoidance of public spaces and greater justification use via more positive attitudes toward personal protective practices. Although concern for COVID-19 can motivate increased social distancing, licensing allows individuals to view health precautions as substitutable rather than additive measures of safety, and this effect applies beyond partisanship. Policy makers should exercise caution in advocating for multiple protective practices of varying effectiveness, especially when those practices are intended to be additive.

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