Perception of interpersonal distance and social distancing before and during COVID-19 pandemic.

Publication date: Feb 25, 2024

Since COVID-19 is easily transmitted among people in close physical proximity, the focus of epidemiological policy during the COVID-19 crisis included major restrictions on interpersonal distance. However, the way in which distance restrictions affected spatial perception is unclear. In the current study, we examined interpersonal distance preferences and perceptions at three time points: pre-pandemic, early post-pandemic, and late post-pandemic. The results indicate that following the pandemic outbreak, people perceived others as farther away than they actually were, suggesting that the distance restrictions were associated with an enlargement of perceived interpersonal distance. Interestingly, however, people maintained the same distance from one another as before the outbreak, indicating no change in actual distance behavior due to the risk of infection. These findings suggest that COVID-19 was associated with a change in the way distance is perceived, while in practice, people maintain the same distance as before. In contrast, COVID-related anxiety predicted both a preference for maintaining a greater distance and a bias toward underestimating perceived distance from others. Thus, individuals who were highly fearful of COVID-19 perceived other people to be closer than they actually were and preferred to maintain a larger distance from them. The results suggest that subjective risk can lead to an increased perception of danger and a subsequent change in behavior. Taken together, even when behaviors should logically change, the decision-making process can be based on distorted perceptions. This insight may be used to predict public compliance.

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Concepts Keywords
Covid COVID-19
Interpersonal Distance perception
Late Distance preference
Pandemic Interpersonal distance


Type Source Name
disease MESH COVID-19 pandemic
disease VO time
disease MESH infection
disease IDO process
drug DRUGBANK Coenzyme M
disease MESH loneliness
disease VO vein
drug DRUGBANK Water
disease MESH social anxiety disorder
disease VO vaccinated
drug DRUGBANK Pentaerythritol tetranitrate
disease VO frequency
disease MESH anxiety disorder
disease IDO replication
disease MESH illusion
disease VO effectiveness
disease MESH phobia
drug DRUGBANK Esomeprazole
disease IDO country
drug DRUGBANK Medical air
disease VO organization
disease VO vaccine
drug DRUGBANK Serine
disease VO vaccination
disease MESH facial expressions
disease VO population
pathway REACTOME Reproduction

Original Article

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