How COVID-19 disrupts social and temporal perception

In a recent study published in the British Journal of Psychology, researchers take a novel approach to understanding the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic by using the concept of disorientation explore its temporal and social dimensions.

Study: Social and temporal disorientation during the COVID-19 pandemic: An analysis of 3306 responses to a quantitative questionnaire. Image Credit: fizkes / Shutterstock.com

The social implications of COVID-19

COVID-19 has profoundly impacted time perception, cognitive processes, subjective temporal distances, and duration assessments. Thus, disorientation is a crucial lens for understanding the heterogeneity of this crisis, with negative impacts such as anxiety, boredom, and loneliness influencing life satisfaction and work-related stress.

Social isolation significantly impacts temporal disturbances, as it can lead to slower perceived passage of time, extended subjective temporal distances, and an overall sense of time expansion. Previous studies have emphasized the link between social disorientation and temporal distortions; however, further research could clarify this association.

About the study

Researchers developed a qualitative and open-ended questionnaire to identify themes from study participant responses, based on which they created the 59-question instrument for social and temporal disorientation (ITSD) to assess COVID-19-related disorientations. The ITSD was updated based on comments from specialists in phenomenology, cognitive sciences, psychology, and geography.

ITSD was delivered by email and Twitter in May and June of 2021 during France's six-month curfew, which preceded the seven-week second nationwide lockdown in the second half of 2020. The questionnaire included nine questions on demographics, the MacArthur Subjective Social Status Scale, 11 questions on lifestyle, six on social disorientation, 16 questions on temporal disorientation, and 13 questions on global psychological trauma.

The component analysis identified several latent factors including temporal and social disorientation, lifestyle changes, and global psychological trauma screening. Social disorientation was a unitary component (SD), except for questions 25 and 26, which concern the ability to create and sustain social interactions using digital means. Temporal disorientation components included time passage, temporal distance, temporal sequence of events, future direction, temporal self-locations, and temporal rupture.

The lifestyle modification component measured pandemic-related routine changes. This was measured by subtracting results from questions 12 and 16, which reflected physical activity alterations throughout the week, weekend activity, and activity changes. The Global Psychotrauma Screening (GPS) and extreme trauma (ET) components were separated into two sections, with question 25 functioning as an instrumental variable.

The possibility of multicollinearity to establish social disorientation as an independent variable was investigated, in addition to explaining and quantifying the association between temporal and social disorientation. Age effects were assessed by grouping respondents into three groups and stratifying the data by gender. The influence of student status among younger respondents was also assessed and stratified by gender.

Study findings

The passage of time had the highest standard deviation across all demographic groupings. Post-hoc analysis indicated a more disoriented phenomenology for students across components, except time, with the two most significant impact sizes being global psycho-trauma and future orientation.

Younger respondents had a more disoriented phenomenology than middle-aged respondents in all components except lifestyle changes. The most statistically significant distinction between these two age groups was the global psychological trauma components.

Women reported more disoriented phenomenology than men. Most statistically significant impact sizes included global psychological trauma, future direction, and temporal rupture.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals generally felt time was sluggish and extended. Among the participants, 73% reported the time before the pandemic was further away as compared to only 6.8% who felt it was closer. Moreover, 14% strongly agreed or agreed to both fast and slow experiences of time. Similarly, 14% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed to both long and short experiences of temporal distance at times.

The matrix showed the weakest associations between lifestyle modifications, as well as all temporal and social disorientation aspects. Social disorientation was a primary cause of disorientation in the temporal domain. Lockdown-related limitations disrupted everyday activities by impairing temporal experience and reducing social life; however, lockdown-related constraints had no direct influence on online social behaviors.

Conclusions

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly influenced temporal and social experiences, thereby creating gaps between pre- and post-pandemic periods. Participants felt disturbances in past, present, and future orientations, fear, and a lack of control over their future. Emotions were the strongest predictor of perceptions of time passing, with lifestyle changes exhibiting the weakest relationships.

Social disorientation predicts temporal distance, time passing, rupture, temporal self-location, and future orientation. Anxiety, sadness, and objective characteristics of physical confinement during the pandemic all serve as confounding variables.

Journal reference:
  • Velasco, P., F., Perroy, B., Gurchani, U., and Casati., R. (2024). Social and temporal disorientation during the COVID-19 pandemic: An analysis of 3306 responses to a quantitative questionnaire. British Journal Psychology. doi:10.1111/bjop.12704
Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Written by

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Pooja Toshniwal Paharia is an oral and maxillofacial physician and radiologist based in Pune, India. Her academic background is in Oral Medicine and Radiology. She has extensive experience in research and evidence-based clinical-radiological diagnosis and management of oral lesions and conditions and associated maxillofacial disorders.

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