Cantwell ’22: Liberals Are Anxious About COVID-19 And They Social Distance More

cantwell poster

Ori Cantwell ’22 presented his research poster during the Convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference on Feb. 13. Cantwell’s study found that liberals were more anxious than conservatives, partially explaining why liberals socially distanced more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ori Cantwell '22

Ori Cantwell ’22

Do political views and anxiety play a functional role in combating COVID-19?

According to a recent study by Ori Cantwell ’22, the answer is yes.

Cantwell, a psychology major, presented his recent study “Yes We (Anxiously) Can: Liberal Ideology and Anxiety Predict Social Distancing during the COVID-19 Pandemic” during the virtual 22nd Annual Convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference, held Feb. 9–13.

“We found that in a sample of over 10,000 American adults, anxiety partially mediated the relationship between liberal ideology and social distancing,” Cantwell explained. “Liberals were more anxious than conservatives, and people were most likely to want to social distance if they were more anxious.”

Cantwell began working on this research in March 2020 with his advisor, Kostadin Kushlev of the Digital Health and Happiness Lab at Georgetown University. They were introduced through Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexis May ’05.

“We don’t think that there’s a plus side to anxiety disorders, but these findings suggest that anxiety could have played a role in how people adapted to the threat of COVID-19 by social distancing.”

To create a social distancing index, Cantwell explored data collected by the Pew Research Center. Between March 19 and 24, more than 10,000 participants were asked, whether, during the pandemic, they’d be comfortable visiting a friend/family member’s house; eating out in a restaurant; attending a crowded party; going out to the grocery store; and going to a polling place to vote.

The average participant was comfortable doing 3.29 out of 5 activities, Cantwell noted.

In November 2020, Cantwell and Kushlev co-authored a pre-print titled “Anxiety Talking: Does Anxiety Predict Sharing Information about COVID-19?” This spring, they’ll continue their research on the topics of misinformation, infodemics, political ideology, anxiety, and social distancing.

Cantwell also is a recipient of the Psychology Department’s Feldman Family Fund grant, which supported his conference registration.