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Relationships During the Pandemic

Alan Flurry

TIME Magazine recently featured research by communications studies faculty and doctoral alumni. “What We Learned About Relationships During the Pandemic,” conveys research findings from a special issue of Journal of Personality and Social Relationships organized by editor Pamela Lannutti (UGA, PhD, 2001) and co-editor Jennifer Bevan (UGA, PhD, 2003), and it reported on a research study in the issue by Yachao Li (UGA, PhD, 2018) and current Professor Jennifer Samp

The research by Li and Samp focused on same-sex couples, revealing that abstaining from complaining led to less relationship satisfaction and more substance abuse. One finding highlighted an intensification of traditional gender roles, which though noticed by both men and women, didn’t seem to trouble most of the men. Another study noted that people who didn’t respond well to on-line interactions didn’t abstain from interaction; they just kept meeting live. 

“When COVID hit it became clear to me that… it would be really important for us to provide a space for relationship science to showcase their work,” says Pamela Lannutti, the director of the Center for Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University in Chester, Penn., and one of the editors of the series of issues. So the journal put out a call for researchers who had begun research on what relationships were like in this unique set of circumstances and the studies flooded in.


The lockdown proved to be a bumper time for what researchers call “parasocial relationships,” that is, relationships with folks who don’t know you, but with whom you form an attachment. Because of the isolation and the direct access people had to celebrities via social media as well as via streaming platforms, many people became much more attentive to their favored celebrities. The study found that people maintained stable relationships with friends as the social distancing measures went on, but felt much closer to the celebrities they followed. The editors theorized this closeness might partly be the result of people consuming a lot more content in their homes, through their personal devices. “It‘s not the same as going to an arena and seeing the concert. They’re sitting at their house,” says Bevan, who acknowledged that Taylor Swift helped get her through some hard days. “It makes that experience a lot different.” These can be famous people, or even fictional characters.

Great work and a testament to the long-standing strength of the Communication Studies Department in relational communication. Congratulations to the department on the broad media attention to this important scholarly activity.

Image: via TIME

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