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The “Self” under COVID-19: Social role disruptions, self-authenticity and present-focused coping

Liu, J. ORCID: 0000-0002-6224-0216, Dalton, A. N. & Lee, J. (2021). The “Self” under COVID-19: Social role disruptions, self-authenticity and present-focused coping. PLOS ONE, 16(9), doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0256939


Social role disruption is a state involving upheaval of social identities, routines and responsibilities. Such disruption is presently occurring at a global scale due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which poses a threat not only to health and security but also to the social roles that underlie people’s daily lives. Our collective response to combat the virus entails, for example, parents homeschooling children, friends socializing online, and employees working from home. While these collective efforts serve the greater good, people’s social roles now lack continuity from what was authentic to the roles before the pandemic began. This, we argue, takes a psychological toll. Individuals feel <jats:italic>inauthentic</jats:italic>, or alienated and out-of-touch from their “true” selves, to the extent their social roles undergo change. As evidence, we report survey (Studies 1 &amp; 4) and experimental (Studies 2 &amp; 3) evidence that COVID-19-related role changes indeed increase inauthenticity. This effect occurs independent of (a) how positively/negatively people feel about COVID-19 (Study 2) and (b) how positively/negatively people feel about the role change itself (Studies 3 &amp; 4). Moreover, we identify two moderators of this effect. First, this effect occurs when (and ostensibly because) the social roles undergoing change are central to an individual’s sense of self (Study 2). Second, this effect depends on an individual’s temporal perspective. People can safeguard their self-authenticity in the face of changing social roles if they stay focused on the here-and-now (the present and immediate future), rather than focusing on the past (pre-COVID-19) or future (post-COVID-19) (Studies 3 &amp; 4). This advantage for present-focused coping is observed in both the U.S.A. (Study 3) and Hong Kong (Study 4). We suggest that the reason people feel more authentically themselves when they maintain a present focus is because doing so makes the discontinuity of their social roles less salient.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright: © 2021 Liu et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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