Video-Diaries from the Shutdown: Social Isolation Adversely Affecting Well-Being

Girl with Phone


Lior Zeevi is a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology. She conducts her research under the supervision of Dr. Shir Atzil, whose lab studies the neuroscience of bonding. Specifically, Dr. Atzil’s lab focuses on the behavioral and neural processes involved in close relationships between partners and between parents and their children. 

Ordinarily, Dr. Atzil’s lab employs a variety of tools to study people’s relationships: behavioral analyses, hormonal analyses, neuroimaging, and more. These powerful tools can identify neuro-behavioral mechanisms underlying close relationships, while measuring and quantifying individual differences in such mechanisms. 

Lab-Like Conditions 

During the Coronavirus shutdown, a number of quantitative surveys circulated via social media, including questionnaires that gathered data on one’s physical well-being, the stress level of expectant mothers, and even smoking habits. Yet Lior felt that something was missing. This (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime experience offered the opportunity to capture and study people’s feelings and experiences, in almost lab-like conditions. 

She designed an innovative experiment and recruited 64 individuals to record themselves in a video-diary. They shared their daily experiences during the shut-down, including eating and sleeping habits and familial relationships. Lior collected video-diaries from three populations of subjects: single people, couples, and parents with children. 

Video-Diaries: A Second-by-Second Analysis 

Lior and Dr. Atzil analyzed the video-diaries, coding the second-by-second behavior in each subject. Their study is rooted in the understanding that as a social species, humans communicate their ongoing physiological and emotional demands using behavioral cues. The tools developed and applied in Dr. Atzil’s lab are enabling the researchers to gain a deeper understanding their subjects’ regulatory processes and well-being, using behavioral analyses of the video-diaries shot during the shut-down. 

While they are still analyzing their findings, the data initially seem to suggest differences between the well-being of men and women, while also showing an effect of the shutdown on subjects’ relationships. Specifically, single men and fathers showed the worst patterns of self-regulation and well-being during the shutdown. Women seemed to be relatively resilient, showing a higher degree of well-being compared to men. Moreover, as the shut-down progressed, subjects reported a drop in relationship satisfaction. Interestingly, subjects whose video-diaries showed improved patterns of self-regulation remained satisfied in their relationships. This study, which draws upon a rich behavioral dataset, indicates that improved patterns of self-regulation are associated with better relationships, especially during times of crisis.