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Dr. Robert Klitzman on the Social Stigma Around Wearing a Mask in the NYT

Dr. Robert Klitzman, Academic Director of the M.S. in Bioethics program, penned “If You See Someone Not Wearing a Mask, Do You Say Something?” in The New York Times. The article considers the social implications of wearing a mask in public, and how stigma and social norms affect people’s decision to wear a mask in social gatherings.

Attending a party, Dr. Klitzman felt like the odd one out when he decided to keep his mask on throughout the festivities. “I considered whether to put one on and, as a doctor, did so. People glanced at me hesitantly, noticing. I felt awkward.” 

Dr. Klitzman cites sociologist Erving Goffman and his work analyzing human behavior in groups, which discusses how individuals avoid actions that might set them apart, or that they believe others will stigmatize. “Many people hesitate to don masks because of implicit group pressures and concerns about what others may think,” says Dr. Klitzman. In his words, people seek acceptance instead of rejection—and this need for liking leads to more people leaving their masks behind. 

Many people hesitate to don masks because of implicit group pressures and concerns about what others may think."

— Dr. Robert Klitzman, Academic Director, M.S. in Bioethics program

Dr. Klitzman notes his work in the ’90s as a faculty member in Columbia’s School of Public Health to change the attitude of the public. He participated in fierce debates in the field, encouraging individuals to assume an increased sexual responsibility and wear condoms. The current public health crisis of COVID-19 is a new challenge that requires similar ownership of responsibility. 
 

Read the full article in The New York Times, and learn more about the M.S. in Bioethics program.