While wearing a mask is an effortless way to curb the transmission of COVID-19, face coverings have become extremely politicized in the U.S. during the pandemic.

In America, 34 states and the District of Columbia have issued requirements that masks be worn in public areas. And according to a Pew Research Center survey, over 85 percent of U.S. adults say they wear a face covering most of the time in stores and businesses in August. However, many Americans are still anti-mask and use violence and protests to get their message across, as have others around the world.

Now, a recent study from Brazil’s State University of Londrina has discovered why some people are so opposed to wearing masks. Researchers found that people who reported “antisocial traits,” like low levels of empathy and high levels of callousness and risk-taking, were less likely to adhere to COVID-19 health standards, including wearing a mask and social distancing.

For the study, “antisocial” includes characteristics that are usually present in people diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, which the American Psychological Association defines as “a chronic and pervasive disposition to disregard and violate the rights of others.” Behaviors include continuously violating the law and manipulating others, and traits like deceitfulness, impulsivity, aggressiveness, reckless disregard for the safety of one’s self and others, and irresponsibility. The mental health condition also causes people to have an absence of guilt, remorse, and empathy.

Antisocial personality disorder affects about 1 percent of the U.S. population and is more often found in men. It’s also called “dissocial personality, psychopathic personality, and sociopathic personality.” 

“These traits explain, at least partially, the reason why people continue not adhering to the containment measures even with the increasing numbers of cases and deaths,” the report’s authors wrote. Researchers surveyed over 1,500 adults in Brazil for 15 weeks during the pandemic, from March 21 to June 29. People were asked questions that assess traits like empathy, callousness, risk-taking, irresponsibility, impulsivity, hostility, and manipulativeness.

Participants were asked if they were following virus health guidelines, like washing your hands regularly and social distancing. The survey also asked if it was “necessary to use a face mask (that protects nose and mouth) in Brazil?”

The study authors speculate that people who have low levels of empathy and are prone to being antisocial are less worried about exposing themselves and others to risks. Because of this, they might act out of self-interest and engage in behaviors that risk the health of others.

“Our findings indicated that antisocial traits, especially lower levels of empathy and higher levels of callousness, deceitfulness, and risk-taking, are directly associated with lower compliance with containment measures,” Professor Fabiano Koich Miguel, one of the study’s researchers, told the Daily Mail. “We cannot state that if a person chooses not to wear a face mask, the only reason is because they are a sociopath. Although this is possible, there are likely other factors involved,” he added.

On the contrary, people who are empathetic think they have a social responsibility to quarantine, wash their hands, and wear a face mask, according to the Brazilian researchers.

After the U.S., Brazil has the most coronavirus cases in the world. On Aug. 21, the country mandated that masks be worn in public and closed spaces like commercial establishments, offices, schools, and places of worship.

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