So, a pandemic hit, and the emergency brakes were pulled on humdrum living. Suddenly it is the freezing phenomenon that dominoes among communities, families, and economies. And just like that, the hard stop provides an unwilling reflective experience for those who had to be around the circumstances they were dealt with, especially the trio of love and belonging, economic situations, and the viral threat itself.
However, the global closure, in all its pro-socialization efforts, may have started and somewhat ‘succeeded’ in resuming sections of forward movement with life, have also stranded the emotional and psychological results of the lockdown. As essential workers strained to keep society from completely crumbling physically and economically, the abyss of hopelessness set in with each day due. Luca, et. al in their December 2020 study, Covid 19 and the Spanish Flu: From Suffering to Resilience, they posit that the time corresponding the Spanish Flu, survivors in Norway who were studied in 1929 developed sleep disorders and attention, depression, and difficulty adapting to the professional environment. There was also an increase in the death rate in the United States in the 1918-1920 period, mainly due to suicide but also to feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, anger, confusion, and abandonment both in the general population and in the medical staff.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, anxiety and fear among people have been increasing and that may be due to increasing number of confirmed and suspected cases and deaths, its enormous spread worldwide, and shortages of personal preventive materials such as facemasks and disinfectants, sensational headlines, and fake news (Bao et al., 2020; Cao et al., 2020). that humans are more than ever motivated to seek an afterlife, to act in a way to be remembered favorably after death, and to be identified with communities that will transcend the duration of their own lives; therefore, they prefer community (social gatherings, seeking close relationships, etc.) than staying at home. Therefore, they need to distract themselves from the fear by suppressing the death-thought from their conscious minds and for that reason, humans have created various symbolic psychological defense mechanisms (Cicirelli, 2002; Florian et al., 2002; Herr, 2018).
It is no surprise then that the results from a study by researchers at Oxford University and NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Center found that nearly one in five people who had Covid-19 were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder – such as anxiety, depression, or insomnia – within three months of testing positive for the SARS-COV2 virus.
Sociable beings historically, humans who have been sequestered from the routines and rituals that bind them to their communities result to the rise in antagonistic or as indicated prior, psychological breakdown of wellness. This was strongly supported in the results from the study, Behavioral limitations of individuals for coping with COVID-19: A terror management perspective (Ahmed, et al 2020) In this pandemic, though, motivating people for keeping physical distance is considered a “pro-social act,” which may reduce the chance of exposure to the virus to them and others, especially the most vulnerable ones (Pfattheicher et al., 2020), it has some behavioral limitations according to the Terror Management Theory (TMT). The theory—postulated by Greenberg et al. (1986) and for over 30 years of empirical evidence validated it time and again in different research settings—states that all human beings are instinctively driven toward survival and continued existence and at the same time consciously aware of their own inevitable mortality. The theory argues that for centuries, human beings in several societies have established their cultural worldviews, which characterized the world or universe as a meaningful, predictable, or orderly place.
Our identity as humans strongly depends on our interpersonal relationships particularly with our attachment figures such as parents, children, and romantic partners because they provide us safe havens and secure bases (Bowlby, 1988; Schimmenti et al., 2020). Interpersonal associations such as parents-children, romantic partners, and friends provide a very important buffering mechanism warding off death thoughts in the process of managing the terror of death (Cox et al., 2008; Mikulincer et al., 2003). According to TMT, when people face the reality of their own mortality and boundedness, especially when realizing that deaths may happen soon in the same way as their others’ deaths due to the disease, they crave for seeking close relationships and associations. It also says that people seek buffers to stave the paralyzing death terror scenarios in their conscious mind. People use social support as a buffer against depression during the time of crisis (McDowell & Serovich, 2007; Watanabe et al., 2004) and receiving help from others is positively related to the sense of belongingness (Hamm & Faircloth, 2005) which increase self-esteem.
Where then do the negative behaviors of individuals such as overbuying, hoarding, and not complying governments’ orders further create negative externalities for society (e.g., spreading the COVID-19 further, expansion of lockdowns, etc.) come from? Ahmed, et al (2020) also discussed that such individuals are showcasing behavior that prefer their short-term gains over society’s long-term gains may be due to their bounded rationality (BR) as individuals. Because of the influence of humans’ emotions and motivations on their mind and cognitive process, their beliefs and choices are rationally bounded and imperfect (Kahneman, 2011; Simon, 1995). To control the spread of the coronavirus and plummeting the associated human and economic losses, depending only on individual-based decisions due to their BR is, though, necessary but not sufficient. The pandemic, which is a threat to human beings physically, is also creating a social dilemma—a conflict between individual self-interests versus collective social interests. Individual either intentionally (i.e., maybe rationally) or unintentionally (maybe unethically) act in a way that maximize their short-term benefits but at the long-term cost of collective societal interests.
It should then be noted that upon re-entry there will be hiccups in relating to each other, especially when TMT driven motivation meet those who are BR driven. The effects of prosocial and antisocial personality tendencies and context-related state factors on compliance with protective behaviors to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections result in a mix between the six types of prosocial tendencies (altruism, dire, compliant, emotional, public, and anonymous), and selfishness as the antisocial tendency were included as personality factors, while fear related to the pandemic and empathy toward vulnerable groups (i.e., those in forced isolation) were context-related factors. The mediation effect of empathy and moderation effect of fear showed some correlation between personality factors and protective behaviors in socialization.
And this is where Prosocial Behaviors must be supported in the forefront during this time of pandemic push-pull reintegration. Even when locked down with familiar people, the resulting consequences of being around them for an unusual amount of time could either stimulate the amygdala’s protective mode or embolden empathy and camaraderie. As the norm from before the lockdown is not necessarily replicated in the reintegration, it is with these Prosocial behaviors that humans experience as driven by altruistic motives focused on maximizing others wins or egoistic motives focused on maximizing own wins. Dinic and Bodroza (April 2021) studied 581 Serbians in their study, COVID-19 Protective Behaviors Are Forms of Prosocial and Unselfish Behaviors. They discuss that six types of prosocial tendencies supported in the study that were seen as variables for social responses, ranging from self-oriented (i.e., public prosociality as a tendency to perform prosocial acts in front of an audience, motivated by the desire to gain the approval of others) to other-oriented (i.e., altruistic and anonymous prosociality as a tendency to perform prosocial acts without knowledge of whom helped) (Carlo and Randall, 2002.) Among the Big Five traits, the trait related to prosociality, Empathy, and helping behavior is Agreeableness (Graziano et al., 2007). While most studies reported positive relations between Agreeableness and protective behaviors during the pandemic (Aschwanden et al., 2020; Blagov, 2020; Bogg and Milad, 2020), some studies did not find significant relations (Shook et al., 2020), or they found even negative relations (Abdelrahman, 2020).
Conversely, the constellation of socially aversive traits that are on the direct opposite of Prosocial Behaviors known as the Dark Triad has been consistently linked to non-compliance with protective measures. Dark Triad traits refer to antisocial strategies that share common characteristic of manipulativeness and lack of affective responsivity or empathy (Dini´c et al., 2020). Additionally, Moshagen et al. (2018, p. 656) defined the common core of dark traits or D factor as “the tendency to maximize one’s individual utility-disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others-, accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications” which the researchers refer to as selfishness.
Dinic, et. al’s results showed that both selfishness and prosocial tendencies had effects on protective behaviors which were driven by the TMT response over and above demographic and context-related factors, but in opposite directions. Thus, selfishness had negative effects on compliance with protective measures, meaning that more selfish people are less likely to adhere to health-protective measures.
It also could be assumed that those who are more other-oriented and prone to anonymous or non-publicized prosocial behavior are less concerned with personal desires and needs and they are characterized by higher emphatic concern, which leads them to practice protective measures even when reintegrating socially with their communities. This is a key component in rebuilding a new habit loop of relating to one another. Additionally, health-irresponsible behaviors that reflect the BR behavioral response among more selfish people could be partially explained by the lack of empathy. This is important from the standpoint of formulating public communication to promote positive behavior change, which should be referred to as protection of the most vulnerable groups and finally, of all others, compared to the protection of oneself (see Jordan et al., 2020).
Whether the motivation is to protect, to participate or to cope, it is undeniable that the pandemic has indeed altered the points of view of humanity. Whatever habits that were there before this global experience have now been altered, for good or for worse.