How Masks Change Us: On Anonymity, Road Rage & Rituals

Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“Would you look at that idiot! What an asshole…”

Why is driving so different? Because it’s anonymous.

In psychology, the phrase ‘masking’ refers to a process wherein someone disguises their true personality, often without realising.

Joan Crawford holding a mask of herself. Source.

The question is: do masks make us into someone else, or do they make us more ourselves?

A brief field guide to masks

First, the ugly.

Then, the mysterious.

As soon as we knew who we were, we wanted to become someone else.

Tibet, 1930s. Taken by Elisabeth Meyer.

The boundaries between rituals, celebrations and theatre have always been blurred

Edouard Manet — Masked Ball at the Opera

Anonymity was the main appeal. Like Dionysian cults, Venetians enjoyed the freedom to dissolve into pure hedonism.

At their core, masks are a tool to induce disinhibition. We use physical masks to counteract the psychological masks.

  • Makes it harder for you to be identified
  • Conceals your emotions and reduces the amount of eye contact you make
  • Lets you feel/think like a different person
  • Helps you avoid guilt, shame and embarrassment
  • Brings to the surface parts of your personality you might otherwise hide
  • In groups, masks can be dehumanising, leading to groupthink and extreme behaviour.

Today, we use different sorts of masks. Alcohol, for instance, does the trick.

We use it for good or evil, to harm or to help, to change and to enhance.

But as privacy becomes ever more elusive, we miss out on opportunities to feel that freedom.



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Rosie Leizrowice

Content strategist @ Farnam Street by day. Essays here sometimes. Berlin. More writing/ say hi: