Rule Governed Behavior – The (Other) Case for Mask Mandates

Mayor Paul TenHaken (R) is the mayor of Sioux Falls, South Dakota— a small town that is just 80 square miles. According to its Wikipedia page, it’s the healthiest city in the entire country— and Wikipedia has never, ever failed me. 🙂

Nonetheless, TenHaken is one of the few (Republican) politicians that has decided to enact a mask mandate. However, he has taken away a “major” talking point from those that are absurdly anti-mask mandates— he has not implemented ANY penalties for NOT wearing them. This means there aren’t any fines, etc.


Now, putting aside any scientific considerations, we can all understand why this would seem nonsensical. What is the point of putting in a mask mandate, (or any sort of mandate for that matter) if there isn’t any immediate consequence?

Not to mention, if you’ve been reading my work, you know I ♥️ consequences.

The answer is— because of something called “rule-governed behavior”. This is something we all live by, but most of us have probably never heard this term. To be honest, I rarely think of it, and I’ve studied the term.

This explains “Rule Governed Behavior” well:

More technical, if you’re interested— Source

Another example of rule governed behavior that many of us can relate to… traffic lights. There are very few people in the world that are not impacted, in some way, at some point, by traffic lights, right? Think about it.

For myself personally, I have been to South Africa, Germany (just the airport, VERY jetlagged though so this one may not count ;)), and I have lived in both coasts of the United States. My entire childhood was in New York, college in Philadelphia, almost a year in England, and now about 10 years in California. I have seen a LOT, many cultures and households (from my work) and lifestyles and just… a lot. I was also married to a man in the military for nine years, and had to deal with a lot of overseas shenanigans when he was deployed, etc.

My (long winded) point is— Literally EVERYONE is impacted by traffic lights. It’s kinda amazing to think about, these smaller things that impact all of us— like it or not.

The same is true with Coronavirus. I struggle to think of anything else that would make up this particular Venn diagram, right?

We all, for the most part, follow traffic lights. We just do. Unless we are not thinking clearly for whatever reason (sleepiness, drugs, distraction, etc.)— we obey traffic lights. Why though? Why do we follow them?

Do we do it because we get rewarded when we obey traffic lights? Of course not. There isn’t any sort of “credit card reward point” system for traffic lights. Nor is there really any IMMEDIATE consequence if you *accidentally* run a traffic light. We have all done it. I can think of one time immediately, that I still feel bad about. No one was around, and nothing happened. It was, of course, a relief. But I was lucky.

It is the same thing with masks. It IS true that (statistically) most healthy adults can bypass the mask and be okay. Statistically speaking, that is true. But, why take the chance? Not to mention the overflow of hospitals. The unnecessary deaths. The unnecessary grief. Why knowingly run that red light?

So, the [other] scientific case for masks is:

1) Rule Governed Behavior: Compliance WILL happen, simply based on the SCIENCE of rule governed behavior. See: Traffic Lights

2) If you are someone that just won’t wear a mask because you’re not convinced it won’t help, well… think about my traffic light analogy. Why take the risk?

Mask mandates are a simple step that can be taken. Now. It’s not too late, leadership (governors and mayors). For history’s sake.