Putting the social back into physical distancing: The role of digital connections in a pandemic crisis

Jan P. Kluck, Filipa Stoyanova, Nicole C. Krämer
Published Online:
21 Feb 2021
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 56 Issue 4

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During the COVID‐19 pandemic, physical distancing is necessary to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. To compensate for the lack of social encounters, people have been advised to connect with others via digital communication channels. Drawing on a psychological framework combined with assumptions from communication science, we therefore investigated whether technology‐mediated communication can actually meet individuals' social needs to foster compliance with distancing measures and whether there are differences between distinct communication channels. Based on an online survey (N = 301) during the first national lockdown in Germany, we found that the impact of audio‐visual communication is limited. Instead, the data showed that text‐based communication indirectly fostered willingness to adhere to physical distancing through the pathway of increased feelings of social support and life satisfaction. Three follow‐up surveys (N = 180) revealed that while feelings of social support increased, people's technology‐based communication and willingness to adhere to distancing measures decreased. Our results challenge the assumption that audio‐visual communication compensates for lack of physical contact more effectively than text‐based communication. This study highlights the potential of text‐based communication to increase feelings of social support, which may be particularly important during a pandemic.

© International Union of Psychological Science