Designed to Divide: Why Mask Messaging Unintentionally Created Chaos

And What We Can Do Differently

Elizabeth Edwards

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America’s COVID-19 communication response has, in large part, followed the path of guaranteed failure by ignoring the importance of our shared but silent psychological communication responses.

Eight months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the United States has reached an apex in our polarized debate over mask-wearing.

While other nations have faced similar debates, nowhere else has the virus produced as much consternation and chaos. How did we get here? Our current mask debate has become highly politicized, but it didn’t start that way. What do we need to do to avoid similar scenarios as therapies and vaccines are introduced and distributed throughout the country?

Cognitive psychologist and neuroscience researcher Dr. Brendan Murray, Chief Science Officer at DIRT, echoes the sentiment of White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx when he says that individual and collective behavior is what it will ultimately take to defeat this pandemic.

“A good place to start is by gaining a deeper understanding of why people act the way they do during times of immense stress and uncertainty,” explains Murray. “Behavioral science can help inform our country of the next steps we need to enact real, meaningful change in our country’s overall response to the coronavirus.”

Psychologists, sociologists, behavioral scientists, and neuroscientists are examples of professions sitting on treasure-troves of insights about how to communicate to increase positive engagement.

An article from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) forum in October explained, “Sociologists and psychologists are as important in this crisis as virologists and epidemiologists” because of how critical contouring communication to encourage positive behavior change is to help more of us get out of this alive.

But the recommended solution only amplifies a problem that is largely to blame for the mask mess in the first place.

Psychologists, sociologists, behavioral scientists, and neuroscientists are sitting on treasure-troves of insights about how to communicate to increase positive engagement and encourage behavior change.

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Elizabeth Edwards

Frequency of Understanding Creator, Engagement Science Lab & @VolumePR Founder