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Masks or Vaccines?: Survey Findings

Dr. Buchtel and Dr. Li were interviewed on the cultural psychology of mask and vaccine attitudes for the Green organization Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung's magazine (Page 40-43, "Perspectives Asia #10, Fabric of Society: Living through the Pandemic" They discuss their survey of adults in the USA and Hong Kong on why they do (or do not) get vaccinated & wear masks, supported by their EdUHK KT grant "Mask wearing Behaviors and Attitudes: Cultural and Individual Influences" (KT-2020-2021-0019). 

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Mask-Promotion posters

Wow! Join me in appreciating these contributions by EdUHK students towards promoting mask-wearing in the student dormitories and beyond!

These posters take principles of social and cultural psychology and apply them to the tricky job of encouraging everyone to wear masks, in a positive way-- even when we might be coming from different cultures where mask wearing is not the norm, and might even be judged negatively.

(1) Masks = Love!

This first slideshow showcases posters that are aimed to make us feel POSITIVE about seeing others wearing masks, and also tell us that we SHOULD wear masks: Because they protect other people. Masked people are heroes!

(1) Smile with your eyes!

This second set of posters are aimed towards people who feel socially uncomfortable wearing masks because they cover up their smiles-- which might be more important for social connection and normal social interaction in some cultures more than others.

It reminds us of psychology research on a "genuine" smile, shown with crinkles around our eyes (called a Duchenne smile).

Smile with your eyes-- and look to others' eyes to see their smiles!

Smiling with your eyes can create happy social connections too!

(3) Masks are for Friends, Too!

This third set of posters is aimed at the discomfort we might feel about wearing masks around good friends and familiar others. Warning: the feeling that you don't need to worry about infection from familiar, or nice, people--- is a myth! Psychologists postulate that it's a mental quirk left over from evolutionary times, when we had to be more cautious of strangers because they would be more likely to be carrying new-to-us diseases. Unfortunately, COVID-19 likes everyone in your city, whether you're friends with them or not.

So, remember-- masks = love; wearing a mask around your friends is protecting them!

THANK YOU to: Choi Sik Ue, Chui Suet Tracy, Liu Xinlu Echo, Cheung Hoi Ki, Lee Haoer Erle, Hu Yuxi Starry, Tang King Chun Karen, Zhang Tianchu Tina, & Wu Yingzhi Zia for their creative contributions!

Survey study: Cultures of Mask Wearing

Debriefing Video

Debriefing Video

Play Video

This is a "thank you" video to the participants in our Cultures of Mask Wearing survey. We conducted an online survey in the USA and Hong Kong about attitudes towards masks, vaccines, and social interactions in the age of COVID-19.

Fabric Design Competition: Connecting Science and Art

ART AND SCIENCE competition: Help turn Psychology research into Art!

This competition is complete.

5 prizes available ($500 1st prize, $300 2nd prize, three $100 runner-ups). 

Winning images were professionally re-designed for fabric printing, printed on fabric, and sewed into fabric masks in a student mask-sewing workshop.

5 Finalists were selected and submitted to a "popular vote" to help decide the 1st, 2nd, and Runner Up prizes! Go to EdUHK Psychology department's Facebook page to see the selections!

Learn more about this contest below.

Video Intro of Mask Competition

Video Intro of Mask Competition

Play Video

In the COVID-19 era, one of our best defenses against the virus is everyone wearing masks!

But different cultures have different challenges with mask-wearing. Research from cultural psychology suggests that different places need different solutions.

In March 2021, we invited students at EdUHK and HKU to submit designs for a fabric mask contest that applies cultural psychology research. 


Our challenge to our applicants was: Can you design a mask that will encourage people to WEAR FABRIC MASKS? They could take up one of these challenges: 

  1. In Hong Kong, almost everyone wears a surgical mask in public—BUT, the one-use surgical masks are not good for our environment! Research suggests that Hong Kongers are highly sensitive to social pressure to wear surgical masks, which are more “normal” and look safer. But research on masks suggests that washable fabric masks, if they have multiple layers and are well-fitting, are just as good as disposable surgical masks for public use. Can you make a design that would help people in Hong Kong feel comfortable wearing a fabric mask, emphasizing that they are environmentally-friendly and protect the public? 

  2. In the USA, there’s a different problem: Many people do NOT want to wear masks in public. Research suggests that one of the major reasons is that in American culture, SMILING at people (even strangers) is really important socially! I If you can’t smile, you look unfriendly and anti-social. But actually, masks are vitally important for taking care of others and are very pro-social. Can you make a design that would help people in the USA feel comfortable wearing a fabric mask, emphasizing that they are pro-social and can make others feel happy?

Runner-up designs were voted on by student peers, and finally turned into real fabric masks at the end of the semester. We loved seeing your ideas for turning psychology research into mask art!

This Knowledge Transfer project was led by Dr. Emma Buchtel, Department of Psychology, EdUHK, and co-organized by Prof. Laurence J. Wood (Department of Cultural and Creative Arts, EdUHK), Dr. Priscilla Song (Centre for the Humanities and Medicine, HKU), Dr. Joseph Walline (Emergency Medicine, CUHK) and Dr. Li Man Wai (Department of Psychology, EdUHK). It is supported by Knowledge Transfer Grant #05940, “Mask wearing behaviors and attitudes: Cultural and individual differences.”

“Mask Wearing Behaviors and Attitudes: Cultural and Individual Influences” (Aug 3, 2020 - May 31, 2021), HK$100,000, EdUHK Knowledge Transfer Funds (KT-2020-2021-0019), PI: Emma E. Buchtel. Co-Is: Priscilla Song, Joseph Walline, Li Man Wai, Lawrence Wood.

Relevant research:


Dr. Emma Buchtel’s research on how culture influences facial expressions:


Dr. Man Wai (Liman) Li’s research on how culture influences concern for the environment:


In the USA, the need to be friendly-- with a big smile-- may be a major psychological barrier to wearing a mask. What about Hong Kong? Here, we may want to make people more aware of the environmental friendliness of fabric masks, and how they can be effective (with proper layers and a good fit).

Previous cultural psychology research from Jeanne Tsai and Hong Kong colleagues has found that “big” smiles are more important in the USA than various East Asian cultures.


For example, culture shapes how leaders smile:


And here is an interview with her about how Americans may find it harder to adjust to smiling in a masked, COVID-19 world:


Previous research from Michelle Gelfland on how cultures that have “tighter” rules for how to behave were better able to prevent COVID-19:

Note: Hong Kong is “in the middle” in terms of tightness / looseness

Relevant Grants:

To Increase Understanding:

Communicating about Cultural Differences

Jul 1 2020 - Jul 31 2021

This project will create a fun and interesting interactive website that allows researchers to communicate about cultural differences (e.g. Buchtel et al. 2020/relations to mask-wearing, Buchtel et al. 2015), while emphasizing elements that counteract nasty side effects (Buchtel, 2014) such as essentialism, prejudice, and outgroup homogenization.

Fundamentally, the interactive data-display will show how we can communicate information about cultural differences using graphics and explanations that will help prevent cognitive errors that often accompany learning about cultural differences: essentialism of those cultural differences, outgroup homogenization, negative perceptions (prejudice, misunderstanding), and a sense of being “hugely” different from a whole outgroup.

The long term goal is that citizens in Hong Kong and abroad will become less prejudiced, understand cultural differences as being different proportions of opinions instead of fundamentally different groups, and feel more empathy and similarity to people in other groups.

Grant Details:

“Communicating about Cultural Differences to Increase Understanding” (July 1, 2020 - July 31, 2021), HK$50,000, FEHD Impact Pathway grant #04586, PI: Emma E. Buchtel. Co-I: Priscilla Song.

Mask Wearing Behaviors & Attitudes:

Cultural and Individual Influences

This project aims to capitalize on our collective expertise in culture, health, and social judgment to identify the factors that are associated with positive mask wearing attitudes across different societies, and translate these findings into a positive product: Fabric mask-covers designed to encourage positive social judgements and interactions, both within- and between-cultures. Does wearing a mask suggest to others that you are afraid and potentially diseased —or that you are considerate and doing your moral and civic duty? What moral meanings and cultural valences are invested in mask wearing in different cultures? Understanding such perceptions and challenges can help healthcare workers and policymakers in Hong Kong and around the world to know what factors will encourage mask-wearing among the general populace, and provide fun fodder for student-made applications of those factors into mask-cover designs.

Our overarching goal is to translate our current research findings and skills into a demonstration of how expertise in cross-cultural comparison can provide data-supported answers to these speculations, as well as actionable health recommendations. To produce and disseminate actionable suggestions for public health organizations in Hong Kong and the USA on barriers and encouragements for public mask wearing is also one of our practical objectives.

Grant Details:

“Mask Wearing Behaviors and Attitudes: Cultural and Individual Influences” (Aug 3, 2020 - May 31, 2021), HK$100,000, EdUHK Knowledge Transfer Funds (KT-2020-2021-0019), PI: Emma E. Buchtel. Co-Is: Priscilla Song, Joseph Walline, Li Man Wai, Lawrence Wood.

Aug 3 2020 - May 31 2021

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