At the same time, it seems wrong to cross the street avoiding human contact and to refrain from embracing friends and family. He started to tremble inside when he saw crowds in the films, although he personally misses the closeness.
Several studies show the negative impact of social distance. Although it is nothing more than a tiny virus, Sars-Cov-2 has been affecting several aspects of life, especially the psychological one.
Impossible to imagine the end of the tunnel
The pandemic is like an endless car trip, with possible traffic jams, in which the passenger is thinking: “How much time is left? When will we finally get there?” In the end, relief is expected, the well-deserved rest after an extremely exhausting season. The expectation is to return to the good old normality, without masks, without having to maintain interpersonal distance.
But will this normality ever return? Psychologist Steven Taylor, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who also deals with the issue, acknowledges: “Many find it difficult to return to normal, due to a cognitive bias.”
The anchoring or focalism effect describes the human tendency to hold on to the first of a series of information, basing on that first impression all subsequent actions, whether evaluations, arguments or conclusions.
“Today, in 2021, we find it difficult to imagine a future in which to shake hands, embrace and attend concerts, because we are psychologically anchored in a present in which such things are prohibited or uncertain”, explains the author of the book “Psychology of pandemics: Preparing for the next global outbreak of infectious disease “.
Background without psychological sequelae
Looking at epidemics and pandemics in recent decades, “there is no indication of long-term effects on psychological functioning,” says Taylor. Of course, this may be due to the fact that they were relatively mild emergencies compared to the covid-19.
With the so-called “Spanish flu”, however, it was different: hygiene practices such as washing your hands, covering your mouth when coughing and not spitting on the floor probably became more common after 1918. However, it is notable that there were no other changes in lasting behavior.
“Consider, for example, the use of protective masks in public, which was common and even compulsory in western countries during the 1918 pandemic: the habit quickly disappeared, after the threat had passed,” reports the professor.
With Covid-19, everyone had to get used to wearing masks. The situation in the West was different from that of Asian countries, where they were already an established habit, as a way of preventing the transmission of colds.
“The 2003 SARS epidemic in some Asian countries, for example in Taiwan, probably had a lasting influence, and prepared these countries to impose constraints quickly and early in the covid-19,” points out Taylor.
You cannot survive without physical contact
Soon after the end of the pandemic of the new coronavirus, a kind of brief “crazy 20’s” may occur, predicts the psychologist, “characterized by particularly intense sociability, but even that will pass, as things return to what they were, before the Covid-19”.
Martin Grunwald, director of the Haptics Laboratory at the Paul Flechsig Brain Research Institute at the University of Leipzig, is confident: “Most will shake hands again, hug each other, go to crowded bars and attend events in crowded stadiums, such as matches of football. At the first signs that contact with another human being is no longer dangerous, let’s revert to the old behavior. ”
This is because touch is something essential, at the biological level: “The human organism only develops in the closest contact with the other. It is, so to speak, a fundamental experience of our species.”
Finally: the human being cannot exist without touch. And he is not alone because every mammal that depends on the care of parents in childhood needs physical contact to develop properly.
“Physical interaction with the other is, as it were, in our biological or social DNA. It is shaped by our experiences as children, as babies. We will find our way back to these basic forms of communication,” says Grunwald.
The instinctive art of hugging
As long as Taylor and Grunwald are right, as soon as there are indications that interpersonal contact is no longer dangerous, the will to embrace again will come. But will everyone still know how to do it? How to approach others? How to communicate the desire for closeness, touch and hug?
“It will certainly be a little awkward at first. You can see that now, when we meet someone, we don’t quite know how to greet,” says Sabine Koch, professor of dance and movement therapy at the SRH School of Applied Sciences in Heidelberg, and director of the Institute for Research in Art Therapies at Alanus University, in the vicinity of Bonn.
Long before the pandemic, she had already been researching hugs: for example, how body rhythms communicate the need for closeness. There are three stages of the embrace: first, smooth, round movements, then the body becomes more tense.
Finally, there is a tap on the back or shoulder, signaling the end of the hug, as if saying “It has come for me, we can let go”. This sequence, according to Koch, is what makes up a good hug.
During her study, however, she also noted an interesting exception: the three phases apply to all combinations of women with men or women with each other, but not when men embrace. At least in a public context, male hugs start immediately with a tap on the back, which is a combative gesture.
Non-verbal sensitivities game
So the pandemic is certainly not going to make you forget how to hug. But Koch assumes that in the beginning there will be some reservation, a kind of transition phase. The decision will be “if and how the hug happens, on a non-verbal level, in a negotiation like ‘Is it okay to hug you now, or not?'”
“Our study also showed that individuals have very different levels of non-verbal sensitivities,” explains the movement therapy specialist. In other words: there are those who notice immediately when someone taps during the hug, giving the signal to let go, and takes a step back. Others notice much later, yet others don’t notice anything.
After the pandemic, the sensitivity of each one is especially important. Are there any real signs that the other person wants a hug too? Sometimes it’s not easy to say. So in case of doubt, it might be worth restraining yourself. Or ask directly.
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