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Masked and Unmasked

Assistant Professor of Economics Syon Bhanot became a go-to authority this spring as media outlets including The New York Times and NPR tried to make sense of mask-wearing behaviors.

A behavioral and public economist, Bhanot analyzed how cavalier attitudes toward the COVID-19 pandemic stemmed from psychological reactance, which can make people feel compelled to do the opposite of what they are told. (Read more thoughts from Bhanot on pg. 47.)

“We really lean on the behavior of others around us,” Bhanot said in an interview with Marketplace, “because if we think about every single decision as one you have to rationally think through the costs and benefits, you would never get anything done in a day.” 

These are social norms, he told Philly Voice in April. And those norms may make some reluctant to wear a mask in public. 

“As soon as you come along and say, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,’ people say, ‘Who are you experts or government to tell me what I can or can’t do?’” Bhanot said. “‘Let me show you. I’ll go out more or congregate more to prove a point.’”