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The impact of COVID-19 social isolation on aspects of emotional and social cognition

Bland, Amy Rachel and Roiser, Jonathan Paul and Mehta, Mitul Ashok and Sahakian, Barbara Jacquelyn and Robbins, Trevor William and Elliott, Rebecca (2021) The impact of COVID-19 social isolation on aspects of emotional and social cognition. Cognition and Emotion. ISSN 0269-9931

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Abstract

The present study aimed to examine the impact of COVID-19 social isolation upon aspects of emotional and social cognitive function. We predicted that greater impairments in emotional and social cognition would be observed in people who experienced more disruption to their usual social connectivity during COVID-19 social isolation. Healthy volunteers (N = 92) without prior mental health problems completed assessments online in their own homes during the most stringent period of the first COVID-19 “lockdown” in the UK (March – May 2020). Measures included two questionnaires probing levels of social isolation, anxiety levels, as well as five neuropsychological tasks assessing emotional and social cognition. Reduced positive bias in emotion recognition was related to reduced contact with friends, household size and communication method during social isolation. In addition, reduced positive bias for attention to emotional faces was related to frequency of contact with friends during social isolation. Greater cooperative behaviour in an ultimatum game was associated with more frequent contact with both friends and family during social isolation. The present study provides important insights into the detrimental effects of subjective and objective social isolation upon affective cognitive processes.

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