Exploring the Relationship Between Empathy, Self-Construal Style, and Self-Reported Social Distancing Tendencies During the COVID-19 Pandemic Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Social distancing has become the most prominent measure many countries have implemented to combat the spread of COVID-19. The aim of the current study was to explore the potential role of empathy and self-construal styles, as individual personality traits, on self-reported social distancing. Participants completed the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (a multi-dimensional measure of trait-levels of empathy), the Singelis Self-Construal Scale (a measure of self-construal styles), and were asked to rate their level of social distancing and how much they endorsed social distancing on a five-point Likert-scale. Across a large and diverse sample (with participants collected from Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden, and United States; total n = 967), results showed that trait-levels of empathic concern (EC) and perspective taking (PT) positively correlates with social distancing. However, we did not find evidence to suggest that trait-levels of personal distress correlates with social distancing. We interpret these findings as suggesting that empathy, both its altruistic (EC) and cognitive (PT) dimensions, plays an important role in motivating people to socially distance and should be emphasized during times of crisis. Furthermore, we suggest that emphasizing a person’s self-distress during times of crisis may not be an effective approach in promotion social distancing policies (or other prosocial behaviors). We also found that both independence and interdependence self-construal styles positively correlates with social distancing. While we expected the latter result, we did not expect the former. This suggests that more work is needed to fully understand how self-construal styles, along with their cultural level analogs (i.e., Individualism-Collectivism), influences social distancing. Overall, these results provide us with novel multi-national data about the role of individual differences on social distancing tendencies specifically, and human behavior during a global health crisis more generally.

publication date

  • 2021