Distancing Is Hard: Giving Up Socializing Easier Said Than Done
Moonlighting as a business ethics lecturer at a large university, I happened to have my final exams scheduled on the last day the school was in live session before transitioning to virtual instruction. When I asked my large crowd of students, already spread out within an enormous classroom with hundreds of seats, whether they were looking forward to the switch, they collectively shook their head "No."
Why? In their words, they enjoy live interaction. Coming to class to see their friends.
Socializing and hanging out at the student union.
Engaging with professors and classmates during lectures, as opposed to the solitary exercise of navigating through a course from behind a computer screen.
Guess what? Research reveals that most of us feel exactly the same way.
Social Distancing is Easier Said Than Done
In the throes of a pandemic, we have moved from hugging, to shaking hands, to elbow bumping, to waving from 6 feet away . . . to not seeing each other at all — at least not in person. This last factor appears to be the hardest to adjust to.
Avoiding other people is more difficult than it sounds, even when we appreciate the risk of infection. In fact when it comes to social distancing, research suggests that our best intentions might not predict our actions.
Lynn Williams et al. (from 2015) studied social distancing behavior in response to a simulated epidemic of infectious disease. Acknowledging the value of behavioral measures such as frequent hand washing or wearing face masks in protecting people against contracting an infectious disease, they studied the value of protection motivation theory (PMT) as a useful theory in understanding the practice of social distancing.
The methodology in their study involved participating in a computer game where players had to assume the role of a resident in a neighborhood that was in the midst of an epidemic, having to decide how many people with whom to be in contact.
Interestingly, they found that PMT variables did not predict social distancing behavior in the computer game scenario. They did find, however, three PMT factors that constituted significant predictors of the intention to engage in social distancing: fear, response efficacy and self-efficacy.
They explain their findings as illustrating how PMT is a valuable framework for comprehending the intention to practice social distancing during a simulated epidemic, but not actually following through. They note this distinction may illustrate a gap between intention and behavior, which is important to recognize in planning and crafting effective methods of intervention during actual epidemics.
The research by Williams et al. (ibid.) suggests that despite the best of intentions, social distancing may be difficult to actually carry out, even in response to the possibility of infection. Even when people understand the rationale behind self-imposed quarantine, they don’t like the thought of giving up their social lives.
This is particularly true for those who are not tech-savvy and do not participate in social media. For low tech individuals, interacting within a crowded workplace, shopping mall, fitness center, or weekly book club contributes to a rewarding social life.
But social distancing does not have to mean a total lack of connection. In the midst of a pandemic, schools, workplaces, and even friends and family step up to establish virtual connections both personally and professionally, so that out of sight will not mean out of contact.
Social Distancing is Not Social Isolation
Just because we are not going to be mingling in public for a time does not mean that we are going to be sitting at home playing solitaire. To the contrary. For people who are used to driving or taking public transportation to work, class, or social events, consider that time saved commuting can now be spent communicating.
In the internet age, we have the ability to spend our time at home sifting through our virtual rolodex, reconnecting with acquaintances, friends, and family with whom we have fallen out of touch. Reestablishing these connections are not only rewarding in the short term, but they will likely boost our in-person network in the future — hopefully sooner rather than later. Because even in the throes of a pandemic, we appreciate that this too shall pass.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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