Social ties came to the rescue during the pandemic. A study with more than 13,000 participants from all over the globe and published this week in Science Advances so it shows. It reveals that close and prolonged ties were associated with greater psychological well-being of individuals during the first wave, as well as with compliance with health regulations. Family relationships played a leading role in adherence to these standards.
We are social beings. Humanity has been able to survive, in fact, thanks to the role of the group and the community. This trait becomes even more prominent when physical or mental integrity is threatened.
“In times of crisis, humans have evolved to be dependent on their closest selves, particularly their relatives,” Martha Newson, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at the Universities of Oxford and Kent, both in London, said by email. England. The groups serve as a refuge for us to obtain resources, information, protection or even action guides in situations of danger.
The covid pandemic motivated the adoption of measures such as confinement, which partly truncated the realization of this defining characteristic of the human species at a time of uncertainty and alertness. How could it be otherwise, the isolation of people in their homes reduced their emotional well-being.
“They separated us from the community at a time when we probably needed others the most,” says the first author of the research, Bahar Tunçgenç, from Nottingham Trent and Oxford Universities, both in England.
Even with everything, during the confinement the feelings of the community surfaced. The applause for the toilets or the shows that some people offered their neighbors from the balconies are two examples of this. And it is that in the face of crises or natural disasters, a certain shared social identity emerges that motivates support for others affected. Another current example of this is represented by solidarity with Ukraine.
The pandemic increased isolation and health concerns while fostering community connections
Ultimately, the pandemic increased isolation and concerns about physical and mental health while offering opportunities to forge community connections. Taking these somewhat opposing influences into account, the authors proposed to unravel what role social ties played in promoting compliance with sanitary regulations – use of masks, hygiene measures and social distancing – and the psychological well-being of people.
Participants spanned 122 countries in an effort to include people from the global South, often underrepresented in psychological studies compared to those from the northern part of the globe. The need for belonging and connection with others is universal, but the way individuals represent their relationships varies by culture. Social ties were differentiated into close social circles -family and friends- and broader groups -country, government and humanity-.
Each social group revealed different but complementary benefits in cushioning the negative effects of the pandemic on physical and mental health. Only the relationship with the family, not even with friends, was linked to a greater commitment to sanitary standards.
It is true that an intense union with a greater number of groups was related to a greater probability of wearing a mask and complying with hygiene measures. It was not so for distancing. Unlike previous studies, the researchers found no evidence that a sense of belonging to a country improved compliance with health regulations.
On the other hand, for the best mental health and well-being, the premise that summarizes the results would be: the more and more intense relationships, the better. Both close and larger groups helped emotional well-being during the pandemic.
The difference in benefits is explained by Tunçgenç: “When we try to decide which route to take in uncertain and stressful times, we look to those we trust the most; for most of us, this is our close family. But well-being is more related to having positive feelings and the extent to which we feel like a useful and contributing member of the community.”
The findings reinforce the conception of the strong influence of the norms and values of close groups on people’s actions. For this reason, for the researchers, the action measures of the authorities in moments of social unrest should be directed to the networks that involve the closest relationships, such as the aforementioned family or friends. To provide rapid psychosocial support, relationships at all levels should be harnessed.
From a more long-term perspective, the researchers affirm that the commitment to a more resilient society must prioritize community connections.