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A survey to understand the effects of social distancing measures

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Published on Wednesday, 22 April 2020

In less than a month, COVID-19 has profoundly changed our daily habits. Between “home-office”, “home-schooling” and only leaving our homes for basic necessities, our social interactions have been drastically reduced. Stress factors such as the loss of income, gloomy news and daily uncertainties must be added to this social isolation. If the need for social distancing measures is rarely questioned in principle, this does not mean that they are without consequences. Two researchers and their teams from the University of Luxembourg, Conchita D'Ambrosio and Claus Vögele, are launching an online questionnaire to understand the psychological effects of social distancing measures in Luxembourg and the neighbouring countries.

The psychological effects of social distancing measures in Luxembourg and the neighbouring countries

The changes we have been through have been so drastic, intense and sudden, that they must have some impact on our mental health, sooner or later. With our study we aim to understand what characterises those individuals who manage their life better in the current situation,” explains Conchita D’Ambrosio, an economist expert on the study of individual well-being. “Even if a great majority of people seems currently to be doing well and coping with the situation, this may not be the case for everyone,” adds Claus Vögele (psychologist and member of the advisory group set up by the government to assess COVID-related measures in Luxembourg.) He questions: “What about the most vulnerable ones? People who don’t have coping resources, who barely get by under normal circumstances? What about those who need social contact to survive this situation?”

Social support and social contact are among the most important protective factors for mental health and well-being. Previous research has shown that social isolation resulting from preventive measures has a substantial negative impact on mental health. Yet it remains unclear which factors predict the levels of psychological distress caused by social isolation. What role play factors such as our personality, resilience, health anxiety, and emotion regulation for the way we cope with the situation? What are the effects of our socio-economic and demographic characteristics (e.g. housing, living conditions, education, economic status, family composition) on health outcomes during confinement?

A questionnaire and a follow-up survey

To answer these questions, the researchers created a survey of about 200 questions and are now looking for participants. “It takes approximatively 45 minutes to one hour to complete it,” says Claus Vögele. “There are, of course, questions concerning how you are dealing with the current measures, but also questions on your health, your personality, your own personal situation. It’s very different to experience the confinement in a house with a garden than in small city flat with no outside access,” explains Conchita D’Ambrosio. The two researchers would like to go further with their research. “We’ll invite a subsample of participants for a laboratory-based psychophysiological investigation once the lockdown measures are over. In addition to the self-report data obtained in the online survey, we will obtain physiological and behavioural data under controlled, standardised conditions,” explains D’Ambrosio. 

Impacting today’s decisions, improving tomorrow’s prevention 

Through this research, they not only hope to understand better how we all respond in times of crisis but also to provide advice to decision and policy makers. “In the short term, this research project will allow us to inform politicians of the negative effects of the confinement that need to be addressed as soon as possible. But it also has a long-term goal. Understanding the psychological mechanisms associated with adverse events in the current situation is essential for the development of prevention strategies to improve health outcomes in future, similar situations. In addition, the expected results will increase our understanding of how to adequately support individuals in the aftermath of the current and future crises,” underlines Claus Vögele. 

If you live in Luxembourg or the neighbouring countries and would like to support this study, you can participate in the survey here.