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Game Theory Can Explain Why You Should Wear A Mask Regardless Of What You Believe

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Sanketh Andhavarapu writes in Scientific American:

COVID-19 is no longer a battle against a virus. It is also a battle within society against the uncooperative. Tensions are rising as individuals take polarized stances against safety guidelines. While some are pressing others to socially distance and wear a mask, others are protesting that these are violations of their individual freedoms.

Wearing a mask is one of the recommended methods for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and there is strong scientific evidence to support this.1 Moreover, in contrast to social distancing and quarantining, wearing a mask is more frequently adopted, easier to follow, and is less restrictive. If more people had decided to always wear a mask, America would have done a far better job controlling the pandemic.

So why are people still electing to not wear masks? In a previous article, I explained the phenomenon of caution fatigue, which describes an individual’s tendency to stop complying with safety guidelines due to depleted motivation and energy.2 This article broke down the behavioral science underlying caution fatigue and provided actionable steps towards mitigating it. These insights can be applied to the decision to wear a mask.

For example, let’s take a look at psychological reactance as a contributor to caution fatigue: After constantly being instructed to wear a mask over time, individuals may purposefully not wear a mask to establish a sense of personal freedom, even if this means dismissing scientific evidence.

Besides caution fatigue and reactance, there are a variety of other reasons for why many consciously elect to not wear a mask. Some complain that they are uncomfortable (difficult to breathe in, hot, sweaty, glasses fog up, etc.). Some have politicized wearing a mask to be a “liberal” action. Others hold incorrect beliefs about the effectiveness of masks.

For example, some believe that masks only protect the mask-wearer, and therefore argue that individuals have the liberty to risk their own safety. Others believe that masks only protect others, and argue that they should not have to experience the discomforts of wearing a mask to protect others’health. Then, there are some that incorrectly believe that masks are not effective at all.3

In an attempt to convince members of society to wear a mask, many sources utilize science. However, this approach has continued to fail due to the misinformation pandemic, the freedom argument, and a general distrust in authority. Breaking down the decision to wear a mask from a game theory lens provides a rather novel perspective. By modeling assumptions that reflect people’s reasons to not wear a mask, we see that wearing a mask still results in the optimal outcome for society.

What is the prisoner’s dilemma?

The prisoner’s dilemma is one of the most famous examples of game theory, which is the study of how two parties interact and determine strategies in competitive environments.

In this game, two apprehended bank robbers (Brendan and Jackson) have been placed in separate rooms so that they cannot communicate with each other. Each has two options: to confess or to remain silent. If Brendan and Jackson remain silent, they each get a 2-year sentence. However, if Brendan confesses while Jackson remains silent, then Brendan will only get a 1-year sentence while Jackson receives an 8-year sentence. And vice versa. If both confess, both receive a 5-year sentence. The model below visually represents this game. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2020 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Math, Science

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