Adolescence is a formative phase for social development. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated regulations have led to many changes in adolescents’ lives, including limited opportunities for social interactions. The current exploratory study investigated the effect of the first weeks of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown on Dutch adolescents’ (N = 53 with attrition, N = 36 without attrition) mood, empathy, and prosocial behavior. Longitudinal analyses comparing pre-pandemic measures to a three-week peri-pandemic daily diary study showed (i) decreases in empathic concern, opportunities for prosocial actions, and tension, (ii) stable levels of social value orientation, altruism, and dire prosociality, and (iii) increased levels of perspective-taking and vigor during the first weeks of lockdown. Second, this study investigated peri-pandemic effects of familiarity, need, and deservedness on giving behavior. To this end, we utilized novel hypothetical Dictator Games with ecologically valid targets associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Adolescents showed higher levels of giving to a friend (a familiar other, about 51% of the total share), a doctor in a hospital (deserving target, 78%), and individuals with COVID-19 or a poor immune system (targets in need, 69 and 63%, respectively) compared to an unfamiliar peer (39%) This suggests that during the pandemic need and deservedness had a greater influence on adolescent giving than familiarity. Overall, this study demonstrates detrimental effects of the first weeks of lockdown on adolescents’ empathic concern and opportunities for prosocial actions, which are important predictors of healthy socio-emotional development. However, adolescents also showed marked resilience and a willingness to benefit others as a result of the lockdown, as evidenced by improved perspective-taking and mood, and high sensitivity to need and deservedness in giving to others.

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Journal PLoS ONE
van de Groep, S., Zanolie, K, Green, K.H., Sweijen, S.W., & Crone, E.A.M. (2020). A daily diary study on adolescents’ mood, empathy, and prosocial behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. PLoS ONE, 15(10). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0240349