The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health negatively particularly when forcing many into prolonged isolation from others. Individuals experience both physical and perceived social isolation (SI) i.e., absence of social interactions during the pandemic as well as lack of social contacts and participation in social activities (Cudjoe et al., 2020).
Additionally, some individuals might experience fear of future social isolation (FSI) as they feel uncertain about the future when fluctuating between periods of isolation “lockdown” and periods of freer social movement (easing of movement restrictions) when the disease is more “controlled”. The loss or reduced connections with others and fear of future isolation have been linked to poor health and well-being, such as increased fear and anxiety particularly in groups e.g., children and adolescents, older adults, minority groups, those from lower socioeconomic (SES) background, being female, and people with per-existing mental health conditions (Perrin et al., 2009). Due to the physical distancing, could new technology e.g. virtual reality be used to manage loneliness and maintain social relationships? Does it have the same effects as regular in-person meetings?
This PhD project will expand on existing research focusing on the adult population. Other aspects of communication, empathy, executive function, and tech/cybersickness and tech-friendly attitudes will be examined as well.