Socially Distant

Kevin Lewis

April 04, 2021

Social isolation during COVID‐19 lockdown impairs cognitive function
Joanne Ingram, Christopher Hand & Greg Maciejewski
Applied Cognitive Psychology, forthcoming


Studies examining the effect of social isolation on cognitive function typically involve older adults and/or specialist groups (e.g., expeditions). We considered the effects of COVID‐19‐induced social isolation on cognitive function within a representative sample of the general population. We additionally considered how participants ‘shielding’ due to underlying health complications, or living alone, performed. We predicted that performance would be poorest under strictest, most‐isolating conditions. At five timepoints over 13 weeks, participants (N=342; aged 18‐72 years) completed online tasks measuring attention, memory, decision‐making, time‐estimation, and learning. Participants indicated their mood as ‘lockdown’ was eased. Performance typically improved as opportunities for social contact increased. Interactions between participant sub‐groups and timepoint demonstrated that performance was shaped by individuals’ social isolation levels. Social isolation is linked to cognitive decline in the absence of ageing covariates. The impact of social isolation on cognitive function should be considered when implementing prolonged pandemic‐related restrictive conditions.

Awe, daily stress, and elevated life satisfaction
Yang Bai et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, April 2021, Pages 837–860


It is widely assumed that experiences of awe transform the meaning of daily stresses. Across six studies we tested whether and how the experience of awe is associated with reduced daily stress levels in the moment and, in so doing, leads to elevated life satisfaction. We first documented that individuals who tend to experience greater awe on a daily basis (Study 1) or who report higher levels of trait-like awe (Study 2) report lower levels of daily stress, even after controlling for other positive emotions. In follow-up experiments, after primed with awe (compared with amusement, joy, and pride), individuals reported lower levels of daily stress (Studies 3 and 5) and exhibited lower levels of sympathetic autonomic arousal when talking about their daily stresses (Study 4). Finally, in a naturalistic study, participants who took in an awe-inspiring view at the top of a 200-foot tower reported reduced levels of daily stress and central everyday concerns (Study 6). Mediation analyses revealed that (a) the association between awe and reduced daily stress can be explained by an appraisal of vastness vis-à-vis the self and (b) that the relationship between awe and decreased daily stress levels helps explain awe’s positive influence upon life satisfaction. Overall, these findings suggest that experiencing awe can put daily stressors into perspective in the moment and, in so doing, increase well-being.

Titrating the Smell of Fear: Initial Evidence for Dose-Invariant Behavioral, Physiological, and Neural Responses
Jasper de Groot, Peter Kirk & Jay Gottfried
Psychological Science, forthcoming


It is well accepted that emotional intensity scales with stimulus strength. Here, we used physiological and neuroimaging techniques to ask whether human body odor — which can convey salient social information — also induces dose-dependent effects on behavior, physiology, and neural responses. To test this, we first collected sweat from 36 males classified as low-, medium-, and high-fear responders. Next, in a double-blind within-subjects functional-MRI design, 31 women were exposed to three doses of fear-associated human chemosignals and neutral sweat while viewing face morphs varying between expressions of fear and disgust. Behaviorally, we found that all doses of fear-sweat volatiles biased participants toward perceiving fear in ambiguous morphs, a dose-invariant effect generally repeated across physiological and neural measures. Bayesian dose-response analysis indicated moderate evidence for the null hypothesis (except for the left amygdala), tentatively suggesting that the human olfactory system engages an all-or-none mechanism for tagging fear above a minimal threshold.

Actual versus Perceived Infection Rates of COVID-19: Impact on Distress, Behavior and Disability
Norman Schmidt et al.
Journal of Psychiatric Research, forthcoming

Methods: A community sample (N = 249) was assessed using online crowdsourcing and followed for one month. COVID-19 threat appraisal was compared with actual COVID-19 infection rates and deaths at the time of data collection in each participant’s county and state. It was predicted that actual versus perceived COVID-19 infection rates would only be modestly associated. Relative to actual infection rates, perceived infection rates were hypothesized to be a better predictor of COVID-related behaviors, distress, and impairment.

Results: Findings indicated that relative to actual infection, perceived infection was a better predictor of COVID-related outcomes cross sectionally and longitudinally. Interestingly, actual infection rates were negatively related to behaviors cross sectionally (e.g., less stockpiling). Prospectively, these variables interacted to predict avoidance behaviors over time such that the relationship between perceived infection and avoidance was stronger as actual infection increased.

Do voices carry valid information about a speaker’s personality?
Julia Stern et al.
Journal of Research in Personality, forthcoming


Research on links between peoples’ personality traits and their voices has primarily focused on other peoples’ personality judgments about a target person based on a target person’s vocal characteristics, particularly voice pitch. However, it remains unclear whether individual differences in voices are linked to actual individual differences in personality traits, and thus whether vocal characteristics are indeed valid cues to personality. Here, we investigate how the personality traits of the Five Factor Model of Personality, sociosexuality, and dominance are related to measured fundamental frequency (voice pitch) and formant frequencies (formant position). For this purpose, we conducted a secondary data analysis of a large sample (2,217 participants) from eleven different, independent datasets with a Bayesian approach. Results suggest substantial negative relationships between voice pitch and self-reported sociosexuality, dominance and extraversion in men and women. Thus, personality might at least partly be expressed in people’s voice pitch. Evidence for an association between formant frequencies and self-reported personality traits is not compelling but remains uncertain. We discuss potential underlying biological mechanisms of our effects and suggest a number of implications for future research.

With Friends Like These: Aggression from Amity and Equivalence
Robert Faris, Diane Felmlee & Cassie McMillan
American Journal of Sociology, November 2020, Pages 673–713


Some teenagers are willing to bully, harass, and torment their schoolmates in order to achieve popularity and other goals. But whom do they bully? Here, we extend the logic of instrumental aggression to answer this question. To the extent that friendships are the currency of social status, we should expect social aspirants to target their own friends, their friends’ friends, and other structurally equivalent schoolmates. This tendency, we argue, extends beyond what would be explained by propinquity, and we expect that victimization by friends will be particularly distressing. We test these hypotheses using panel social network data from 14 middle and high schools at two time points during a school year. Findings from temporal exponential random graph models suggest that our expectations are correct: the tendency to be cruel to friends is not significantly influenced by propinquity, and victimization by friends has adverse consequences for mental health.

A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation as Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans
Mayer Bellehsen et al.
Journal of Traumatic Stress, forthcoming


Preliminary studies have demonstrated the efficacy of Transcendental Meditation (TM) for treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The present study extended previous research with a pilot trial of TM as a treatment for PTSD via a single‐blinded, randomized controlled design. Veterans with PTSD (N = 40) were assigned to a TM intervention or treatment‐as‐usual (TAU) control group. Participants in the TM group engaged in 16 sessions over 12 weeks, primarily in a 60‐min group format. Change in PTSD symptoms, measured via the Clinician‐Administered PTSD Scale for DSM‐5 (CAPS‐5) was the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes included self‐reported PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, anger, and quality of life (QoL). Assessments were conducted at baseline and 3‐month follow‐up. Mean CAPS‐5 score decreases were significantly larger for participants in the TM group (M = ‐11.28, 95% CI [‐17.35, ‐5.20]), compared to the TAU group (M = −1.62, 95% CI [‐6.77, 3.52]), p = .012, d = ‐0.84. At posttest, 50.0% of veterans in the TM group no longer met PTSD diagnostic criteria as compared to 10.0% in the TAU group, p = .007. Adjusted mean changes on self‐report measures of PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties indicated significant reductions in the TM group compared to TAU, ds = .80–1.16. There were no significant group differences regarding anger or QoL. These findings demonstrate the efficacy of TM as a treatment for veterans with PTSD and for comorbid symptoms. Combined with other research, they suggest that TM may be a tolerable, non–trauma‐focused PTSD treatment.

Do conversations end when people want them to?
Adam Mastroianni et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 9 March 2021


Do conversations end when people want them to? Surprisingly, behavioral science provides no answer to this fundamental question about the most ubiquitous of all human social activities. In two studies of 932 conversations, we asked conversants to report when they had wanted a conversation to end and to estimate when their partner (who was an intimate in Study 1 and a stranger in Study 2) had wanted it to end. Results showed that conversations almost never ended when both conversants wanted them to and rarely ended when even one conversant wanted them to and that the average discrepancy between desired and actual durations was roughly half the duration of the conversation. Conversants had little idea when their partners wanted to end and underestimated how discrepant their partners’ desires were from their own. These studies suggest that ending conversations is a classic “coordination problem” that humans are unable to solve because doing so requires information that they normally keep from each other. As a result, most conversations appear to end when no one wants them to.


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