- Lockdown prompts people to think less about future and others, study finds
- It is the first country to document ‘systemic changes’ in thinking patterns under sanctions
- Findings show external environment and interactions shape internal thoughts
Scientists say that due to the Kovid lockdown, Britons can think less about their future and that of others.
Academics found a ‘significant change’ in people’s daily thought patterns, which was associated with drastic changes in routine.
The harsh stay-at-home measures adopted to thwart the virus forced millions to stay inside, leaving their homes only to exercise and shop for food.
It also effectively cut off their socialization, leading to isolation and increased levels of anxiety and depression.
New research by York University is the first to document the ‘systematic changes’ that took place during the unprecedented sanctions.
Before the pandemic struck, scientists sent 113 people five texts a day for a week, asking them what they were thinking.
Similar texts were sent to the same group of 82 people during the first lockdown that came into force on 23 March.
The messages were studied to identify different situations as well as common patterns of thought between younger and older groups.
This graph compares the prevalence of views in younger people (left) and older people (right), during pre-lockdown (white) and before lockdown (gray). The words on the left represent each thought pattern. It shows the most notable changes in the way people think about the future (top row) and in thinking about others (third row).
The experts chose five common patterns of thought, including future-directed problem solving and social cognition.
Researchers found that people under strict COVID restrictions thought less about the future, unless they were working more.
England’s first Covid lockdown did not increase suicides
The first Covid lockdowns in England and Wales did not lead to an increase in suicides, official figures showed last week.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that between April and July 2020, there were 1,603 suicides in both countries – less than the number for the same period in the last five years.
For comparison, there were an average of 1,835 suicides between 2015 and 2019.
Statisticians said the decline in suicides was driven by lower rates among men.
Experts said the latest data was ‘very reassuring’ that there was no increase in suicides during the first wave of the pandemic.
He has previously suggested that the drop may be down to ‘real social cohesion’ from people coming together to fight Covid, and a feeling at the time that the crisis will soon pass.
The figures also dispute warnings that tougher restrictions would inevitably lead to an increase in the number of deaths.
Thinking about the future and setting goals is ‘critical for mental health’, the team wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
He said that fewer job opportunities can add to the negative emotional changes that happen during the lockdown.
Messages from the volunteers also showed that when they were alone, they thought less about other people than they did before the lockdown.
But on the rare occasions when he interacted with others, he actually thought more of others than before the lockdown.
The researchers noted that their study did not take into account whether other factors — such as fear of illness and bereavement — influence people’s ongoing thoughts.
But their findings suggest that changes in socialization levels and work opportunities are ‘significant contributors’ to how the lockdown affects people’s views on daily life.
Bronte McCain, lead author, said: ‘In general, people spend a lot of time in their daily lives thinking about other people and planning for the future.
‘We found that both these thought patterns were disrupted during the lockdown.’
Co-author Dr Giulia Poerio from the University of Essex claimed that people have reported changes in aspects of their thoughts due to the pandemic, such as what they are thinking about the most or their dreams.
But this study is ‘the first to truly document the systematic changes that occurred in thinking patterns during this unprecedented time,’ she said.
Dr Poerio said: ‘Our findings are exciting because they show how important our external environment and social interactions are to shape what is happening internally.
‘And [they] suggests that changing our external world may be a way of changing the (bad) adaptive thought patterns that make up so much of our waking life.’