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The impact of social isolation and changes in work patterns on ongoing thought during the first COVID-19 lockdown in the United Kingdom

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JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
DateAccepted/In press - 25 Aug 2021
DatePublished (current) - 5 Oct 2021
Issue number40
Number of pages9
Original languageEnglish


The COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdowns in countries across the world, changing the lives of billions of people. The United Kingdom’s first national lockdown, for example, restricted people’s ability to socialize and work. The current study examined how changes to socializing and working during this lockdown impacted ongoing thought patterns in daily life. We compared the prevalence of thought patterns between two independent real-world, experience-sampling cohorts, collected before and during lockdown. In both samples, young (18 to 35 y) and older (55+ y) participants completed experience-sampling measures five times daily for 7 d. Dimension reduction was applied to these data to identify common “patterns of thought.” Linear mixed modeling compared the prevalence of each thought pattern 1) before and during lockdown, 2) in different age groups, and 3) across different social and activity contexts. During lockdown, when people were alone, social thinking was reduced, but on the rare occasions when social interactions were possible, we observed a greater increase in social thinking than prelockdown. Furthermore, lockdown was associated with a reduction in future-directed problem solving, but this thought pattern was reinstated when individuals engaged in work. Therefore, our study suggests that the lockdown led to significant changes in ongoing thought patterns in daily life and that these changes were associated with changes to our daily routine that occurred during lockdown.

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