Social interaction in times of social distancing

Photo by Isabella Capelli

Social interaction in times of social distancing:
Investigating the impact of physical and emotional distance on joint action

During the COVID-19 pandemic, social life has been shaped by containment measures such as social distancing and mask wearing. People now prefer larger ‘interpersonal distances’ than before the pandemic, in line with social distancing guidelines. In addition, face masks can induce difficulties in reading others’ facial expressions, which in turn hinders emotional connection and social rapport.

How do these changes in physical and emotional distance affect social interaction? We aim to address this question from an Experimental Psychology perspective by carrying out empirical studies both online and in the lab. In particular, we are interested in social encounters that require coordination of actions in time and space (joint action), where individuals engage in close proximity and performance benefits from social rapport. Our results will be of applied importance for confident and effective (post-)pandemic joint action in social and professional settings, thereby supporting social cohesion and economic stability.

This project is funded through the ECAS Tandem Fellowship, which promotes cross-national exchange between Lower Saxony and Scotland, and has helped us realize this collaboration between Leibniz University Hannover and the University of Stirling.

Project Owners

Dr Laura Schmitz


Laura received her PhD in Cognitive Science from the Central European University in Budapest in 2018. In her doctoral studies, she investigated the cognitive and motor processes that underlie interpersonal coordination. She then held research positions at LMU Munich and Aarhus University. Since October 2020, she has been working as a postdoc at Leibniz University Hannover.

Dr Arran Reader


Arran received his PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Reading, UK in 2018. In his doctoral work he used non-invasive brain stimulation to examine the role of different brain areas in action imitation. He then spent two and a half years working at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, working on the role of body perception in movement. He has been a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Stirling since July 2020.