Ordering, asking, or shaming: What's the best way to get Americans to wear face masks?

Republicans wearing masks
(Image credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

"In Republican circles — with the notable exception of the man who leads the party — the debate about masks is over: It's time to put one on," The Associated Press reports. GOP House and Senate leaders, governors, and rank-and-file lawmakers have joined Democrats and public health officials in urging Americans to mask up when they go out in public, as COVID-19 ravages the South and Southwest.

At Fox News, hosts Steve Doocy and Sean Hannity have publicly pleaded with President Trump to at least occasionally wear a mask. You might have seen videos of other refuseniks. Research shows masks are effective at containing the coronavirus, so what's the best way to get holdouts to put on their masks?

1. Persuasion: Seeing other people wear masks, including Trump but more importantly members of your social network, is probably the best way to convince mask skeptics, Ray Niaura, a social and behavioral scientist at NYU, tells Politico. "Eventually people are going to say, 'Well all my friends and acquaintances are doing it and they don't seem to be too bent out of shape, so maybe I'll try it', as opposed to 'The government's coming to take my guns and they're forcing me to wear a mask.'"

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2. Mandate: Persuasion didn't work with seat belts, despite a big, expensive federal ad campaign in the 1980s, University of Oregon psychology professor Paul Slovic tells Politico. But once wearing seat belts was mandated by law, compliance went from 10 percent "up to that 70, 75 percent," he said. "It wouldn't have gotten there voluntarily, so I think the message for mask wearing is to mandate it and to enforce it." Goldman Sachs forecast Monday that a national mask mandate would boost compliance by 15 percentage points and "potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5 percent from GDP."

3. Public pressure: "Social pressure or social disapproval is far more effective in getting people to wear masks," countered Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia, pointing to the Anti-Mask League that formed in San Francisco during the 1918 flu epidemic.

Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown, said attempts to encourage mask wearing "might be too late" at this point. "The public has received such mixed messages from the administration," he told AP. "I fear we may be stuck with coronavirus until it burns through the American population and leaves hundreds of thousands dead."

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