Photo/Illutration People walk across the Shijo Ohashi bridge in Kyoto while wearing face masks on Aug. 19. (Masanori Kobayashi)

Japanese people have taken to wearing face masks during the pandemic, but the main reason for doing so has more to do with going along with others than preventing the coronavirus from spreading, a new study says.

Peer pressure emerged as the dominant factor for wearing face masks amid the health crisis in Japan, according to the results of a survey administered by academics.

A research group headed by Kazuya Nakayachi, a professor at Doshisha University’s Faculty of Psychology, published its findings in the Swiss scientific journal Frontiers in Psychology on Aug. 4.

“Wearing masks is recommended to stop the virus from spreading to others, but our research suggests wearers rarely use masks for that purpose,” Nakayachi said. “Most of them simply want to don masks just because others do.”

The researchers surveyed 1,000 Japanese citizens online in March about how often and why they wear face coverings.

The survey found that most people wear the protective gear, even though masks offer the wearers themselves limited protection.

The results show a majority of respondents, or 51.2 percent, said they “usually” wear masks amid the pandemic, followed by 31.4 percent who said they “sometimes” wear them. Only 17.4 percent said they do “not at all” wear masks.

The survey quizzed respondents in six areas: the danger of contracting the virus; preventing oneself from becoming infected; protecting others from infection; taking the maximum possible precautions against the virus; peer pressure; and easing anxiety.

Respondents rated their reasons for wearing masks on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 points representing the reason that “best explains” their motive, while 1 point would signal that they do “not at all” agree with the statement.

The most popular answer was “peer pressure,” which averaged 3.47 points.

The least likely reason was “preventing one’s own infection,” which garnered the lowest average score of 2.57.

The academics also studied the association between respondents’ answers across the six topics and the frequency with which they reported wearing masks. The study authors discovered that the practice of donning masks is strongly connected to “peer pressure.”

Although face masks are intended to protect others from infection, the connection with that reason was extremely weak.

Nakayachi noted the results should be cautiously assessed by policy makers.

“The tendency to be affected by peer pressure can be taken advantage of in developing anti-coronavirus measures,” he said. “But that might urge people to watch one another too much, so careful consideration must be paid.”