Shaun Shue

Citizen Social-Science: What would make facemasks appealing?

Running take. I covered the technical aspects of improving facemasks, but what would it take to change a facemask from new-compliance-device to common-as-shoes?

Conveying immediate benefits

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg details how habits are formed.

  1. A cue triggers a desire
  2. We do a routine
  3. We get a reward
  1. Our stomach rumbles when we’re hungry
  2. We eat something
  3. We feel satisfied

A success story from the book was how Pepsodent made tooth brushing a daily habit (cuing people to feel the film on their teeth, and after they brushed, rewarding them with minty tingling on their gums and tongue). The importance of tooth brushing is universally understood today, but back then, just telling people they should do it wouldn’t have yielded mass adoption.

When it comes to wearing a mask, there are multiple rewards that would fit the model:

  • Covering the stale smell of heavily used public spaces or the industrial cleaning products used to clean them. People get used to or put up with the smells out of necessity. Masked up, I smell my menthol lip balm or a dab of VapoRub instead.
  • Cleaner air. I have dust allergies, and I’ve never sneezed less than when I could wear a face mask in public without being looked at funny.
  • Staying healthy from other bugs. I expect to be out of commission one week a year with a cold, and with a mask and other measures, I haven’t had so much as a sniffle.

I’ve read of others enjoying masks for further reasons (my favorite: feeling like a ninja). Yet the messaging has focused on what you have to do, and neglected to also convey what you get to do.


I see multiple brands, including luxury brands, branching into facemasks. It’s a great complementary tactic since people have worn far more intense things for fashion, and as a business case, there is precedence for offering accesibly priced items.

Challenges include the immense variation by demographics, and the limitations of fashion as public policy—which are apparent when done poorly. At the DDR museum 12 years ago, these jeans were on display next to a pair of Levis with caption: “The state announced styles for the season. Levis sold for 20x on the black market”

Very ugly jeans

Influential figures

Obama, Bush and Clinton are going to get vaccinated on camera. Dr. Fauci pointed out that lead vaccine research scientist Kizzmekia Corbett is herself a Black woman—speaking to the historical mistrust of medical institutions in the community.

These are good, helpful and needed, though it’s frustrating when there are equally influential figures advocating the opposite. I’m reading into the structure around that, but that’s a learning post for another day.