In the COVID-19 era, physical interactions ubiquitously pose a disease threat. Using a novel online paradigm, this study tested whether under such unique circumstances, the fundamental motivation to avoid disease-related threats interacts with individual differences in sociability, such that: (i) responses to others are slowed down, particularly among sociable individuals, reflecting motivational tension; (ii) the role of sociability in predicting interaction likelihood is diminished. Participants (Israeli young adults, N = 207) listened to auditory descriptions of everyday social situations, taking place in either the physical or virtual space, and decided quickly whether to interact. Participants also completed the Sociability Scale (Cheek & Buss, 1981). Responses were slower in the physical compared to virtual space, regardless of sociability. The association between interaction likelihood and sociability was stronger in the virtual space, with sociability mirrored by self-reported fear of COVID-19 in predicting interaction likelihood. We propose that when physical contact with others poses a threat to safety, fear supersedes sociability in guiding behavior in physical interactions.
- Disease avoidance
- Social interactions