UW psychologist on social distancing and the value of human connection during COVID-19

UW psychologist on social distancing and the value of human connection during COVID-19


Social distancing, seemingly the new way of life under coronavirus, has obvious protective measures for health. But it’s also important to maintain human connection, even when circumstances have changed, says Jonathan Kanter, a University of Washington research associate professor of psychology. Isolation can affect immune functioning and increase feelings of threat and anxiety, so striking a balance helps all aspects of health.

“Any connection is better than no connection,” says Kanter, who directs the Center for the Science of Social Connection at the UW. “Now is the time to reach out to friends and family and connect with them however you can. It may sound dramatic, but it really helps. Let people know how much you care about them, you’ll feel better for doing so.”

Kanter in mid-April launched a national study, building off an ongoing local study, of behavior during social distancing. In both studies, participants take a brief survey on their smartphone every evening; they’re asked about their emotional responses — such as feelings of loneliness or depression — and behavioral responses — such as how much time they spend interacting with others, or even how much time they spend thinking about coronavirus news.

In the new national study, half of participants will receive a motivational tip each day, to determine whether such advice and information improve well-being. The other half of participants will receive the entire package of tips at the end of the study.

“This crisis we are experiencing may not end soon,” Kanter says. “Building a foundation of healthy coping, doing everything we can to stay connected to each other, to reach out and care for each other, is imperative.”



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