A mindful path to the COVID-19 pandemic: an approach to promote physical distancing behavior

Kumar, Sachin, Panda, Tapan, Kumar, Anil and Behl, Abhishek (2021) A mindful path to the COVID-19 pandemic: an approach to promote physical distancing behavior. International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 29 (5). pp. 1117-1143. ISSN 1934-8835


The present situation is marked by the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic on entire humankind and researchers across the globe are looking forward to vaccines or medicines to tackle COVID-19. But, according to the scholars and health care agencies, vaccines alone won’t be of much help, and in the long run adhering to the physical distancing policy along with sanitation could be the only solution. Moreover, extant studies across different areas have noted a positive association between various human psychological factors and prosocial behaviours. Additionally, an empirical study undertaken in the western context has tried exploring the association between a human psychological factor and physical distancing behaviour (a kind of prosocial behaviour) in the COVID-19 context. The results of the extant study seem intriguing and encouraging enough to undertake a more robust exploratory study in this nascent area. Against this background, the present study intends to explore the relationship between individuals’ mindfulness and physical distancing behaviour, along with the mediating role of empathy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To achieve the study objectives, this study has utilized an online survey method and has collected responses from the general adult population in India spread across all the six regions. The survey was conducted during May 2020 when India was under a nationwide lockdown to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 pandemic. The respondents were identified based on the convenience and snowball sampling techniques and utilizing social media platforms the prospective respondents were either contacted through WhatsApp, LinkedIn, and Facebook or e-mails. Post data cleaning, a total of 315 responses were found to be suitable for analysis. For analysis, confirmatory factor analysis was conducted to establish the validity and reliability of the conceptual model, whereas Pearson correlation was undertaken to study the relationship between variables, and mediation was examined using the PROCESS macro of Hayes.

The findings were encouraging and could become the foundation stone for further research as well as a practical guide for policymakers, agencies working in the healthcare areas, and even corporate leaders. As expected, an individual’s mindfulness was noted to be positively related and influencing physical distancing behaviour and the mediation analysis indicated the intervening role of empathy in the association between an individual’s mindfulness and physical distancing behaviour.

Theoretical implications:
This study relates and extends the mechanism of mindfulness in influencing individuals’ physical distancing behaviour in the pandemic situation, notably the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, based on the “empathy-altruism hypothesis” as well as Schwartz’s theory of basic values, the intervening role of empathy has been explored and the findings further helped in extended these two theories in the domain of pandemic.

Practical implications:
The findings of the present could be a game-changer in restricting the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. As espoused by various scholars as well as health care organizations about the usefulness of physical distancing in mitigating the risk of COVID-19, policy makers, healthcare authorities, and even corporate leaders could look forward to strategizing and executing the dissemination of various mindfulness-based programs amongst the individuals. These mindfulness-based programs, which could be disseminated offline as well as online through smartphones, could in-turn help in positively influence physical distancing behaviour amongst the individuals leading to the success of physical distancing policy.

This study could be the first to conceptualize and examine the human psychological factors, particularly the relationship and the role of an individual’s mindfulness with that of physical distancing behaviour amongst the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, this could also be the first study to conceptualize and explore the intervening role of empathy in the relationship between an individual’s mindfulness and physical distancing behaviour. Moreover, in conceptualizing and exploring the relationship between an individual’s mindfulness and physical distancing behaviour, this study explored and extended the “reperceiving” mechanism of mindfulness and the “empathy-altruism hypothesis” along with Schwartz’s theory of basic values in the domain of pandemic.

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