Digital contact does not promote wellbeing, but face-to-face contact does: A cross-national survey during the COVID-19 pandemic

With restricted face-to-face interactions, COVID-19 lockdowns and distancing measures tested the capability of computer-mediated communication to foster social contact and wellbeing. In a multinational sample (n = 6436), we investigated how different modes of contact related to wellbeing during the pandemic. Computer-mediated communication was more common than face-to-face, and its use was influenced by COVID-19 death rates, more so than state stringency measures. Despite its legal and health threats, face-to-face contact was still positively associated with wellbeing, and messaging apps had a negative association. Perceived household vulnerability to COVID-19 reduced the positive effect of face-to-face communication on wellbeing, but surprisingly, people’s own vulnerability did not. Computer-mediated communication was particularly negatively associated with the wellbeing of young and empathetic people. Findings show people endeavored to remain socially connected, yet however, maintain a physical distance, despite the tangible costs to their wellbeing.

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