Purpose in life, loneliness, and protective health behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic


Background and Objectives. Social distancing, while effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), can increase social isolation. The current preregistered study examined purpose in life as a psychological resource that may buffer against loneliness and increase intentions to engage in health protective behaviors. Research Design and Methods. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 517 adults (mean=37.71, SD=11.30; range=19-73) reported their levels of purpose in life, current and pre-pandemic levels of loneliness, and degrees to which they intended to engage in behaviors known to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Results. Across age, having a stronger sense of purpose in life was associated with lower loneliness, as well as greater intentions to engage in COVID protective behaviors. Higher loneliness was associated with lower intentions to maintain social distance and engage in additional health promotion behaviors such as handwashing. However, this link was not present at higher levels of purpose in life. Older age was also associated with less loneliness, but not for individuals with lower levels of purpose in life. Discussion and Implications. Results suggest that psychological resources such as purpose in life are associated with increased protective health behaviors. Further, purpose in life may reduce loneliness and counteract negative effects of stressors that diminish the willingness to engage in health protective behaviors. Our data also highlight resilience among older individuals in times of isolation during a global pandemic.

The Gerontologist