Throughout history, governments have regulated masks in the interest of maintaining public order. In the 12th century, Pope Innocent III banned masks as part of a crackdown on immorality among the clergy. In 1845, New York State made it illegal for three or more people to wear masks in public.
This, after farmers in the Hudson Valley dressed up as Native Americans and attacked and killed their landlords. Around the world, people don masks for rituals and ceremonies—from the violent masked clowns of the Mexican Yaqui Pascola to the revelers at Carnival celebrations across Europe.
In the past few decades, social scientists have contributed empirical data showing that masks make people more likely to violate norms and rules.
In 1979, Purdue University psychologists, Franklin Miller and Kathleen Rowold, looked at how putting on a mask affected the chance of children breaking rules. The psychologists tracked the behavior of 58 kids on Halloween, some of whom wore masks as part of their costumes.
The children were offered a bowl of candy. They were told they could take two pieces. The kids in masks were more likely to take more candy than they were supposed to. 62 percent of the children in masks broke the two-candy limit compared to 37 percent of those whose faces were visible.
Not surprising, eyewear, and specifically sunglasses, have many of the same effects on one’s personality as masks.
In 2010, researchers at the University of Toronto designed an experiment looking at the effects of sunglasses on moral behavior. In the study, a team of social scientists, led by Chen-Bo Zhong, recruited upwards of 80 volunteers and assigned half to wear sunglasses and half to wear clear glasses.
Participants were then given $6 to divvy up between themselves and a stranger in another room. The people wearing sunglasses were significantly less generous. On average, they opted to give the stranger $1.81, compared to $2.71 for the group in clear lenses.
Through the study, Zhong recognized that wearing sunglasses altered people’s sense of anonymity. People in sunglasses admitted to feeling more anonymous. On a scale of 1 to 7, they rated their sense of anonymity as 4.7, while those in clear glasses ranked their anonymity as 4.
It is not uncommon for people to hide behind a mask, literally and figuratively. This Halloween, as people don masks to change who they are on the outside, here’s hoping they remember who they are on the inside. This is an occasion when tricks, not treats, become the norm, and abuse of and violence towards people who are homeless spikes.
Adapted from ‘Sunglasses Make You Less Generous’, The New Republic