British study: Family bonding helps improve health

Social bonds are related to health behaviors and positive well-being globally

At times of turmoil, such as during disasters, social crises, or pandemics, our social bonds can be key to receiving support and gaining certainty about the right course of action.

In an analysis combining two global datasets (N = 13,264) collected during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, this study examined how social bonds with close social circles (i.e., family and friends) and extended groups (i.e., country, government, and humanity) relate to engagement in health behaviors and psychological well-being.

 Results revealed that only family bonding was associated with self-reported engagement in health behaviors. Being strongly bonded with both close circles and extended groups predicted less anxiety and depression and better well-being, particularly for those who were bonded with more groups.

These findings highlight that close and extended social bonds offer different sources of support and direction during the most challenging of circumstances and that continuous investment is needed to forge and maintain both.

“No man is an island,” as the 16th century poet, John Donne, said. Our connection to the rest of humankind has been at the forefront of our minds in recent years, made prominent by the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic.

Akin to observed social outcomes of other social crises or disasters  the pandemic initially created feelings of community (e.g., clapping for the National Health Service in the United Kingdom or communal singing on balconies in Italy) and opportunities to unite more strongly with close social circles of family and friends, as well as with extended groups such as one’s country.

Still, repeated, lengthy lockdowns during the pandemic led to increased social isolation and distress for many people, and reports of growing prejudice, hostility toward outside groups, and sociopolitical polarization abounded in the first year of the pandemic .

The pandemic offered opportunities to forge community connections while simultaneously elevating worries around physical and mental health.

Considering these contrasting influences, here, we investigate what role social bonds play in guiding people’s health behaviors and psychological well-being.

We conducted a combined analysis of two global-scale datasets gathered at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to examine how bonds with close social circles (i.e., family and friends) and extended groups (i.e., country, government, and humanity) are associated with engagement in pandemic-related health behaviors, mental health (i.e., anxiety and depression), and overall psychosocial well-being.

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