Human Behavior in the Social Environment: 5 Effects of COVID-19

human behavior in the social environment
human behavior in the social environment

Human behavior in the social environment is an interesting topic to human services professionals, especially during recent times. The global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives around the world since March 2020.

People have responded in different ways to COVID-19, because of fundamental differences in how we react to stress. In today’s article, we’ll discuss basic principles of human behavior in the social environment, then dive into several main impacts of the pandemic.

If human behavior in the social environment intrigues you, read on to learn more.


human behavior in the social environment fundamentals

Fundamentals of Human Behavior in the Social Environment

Human services professionals understand human behavior in the social environment through a vulnerability, risk, and resiliency model. This model solves each challenge by assessing the vulnerability-invulnerability and risk-protective factors spectrum. To examine any social behavior, you need to understand:

  • Systemic challenges and social norms
  • Family life and belief systems
  • Social support networks
  • Individual traits

Categorizing individual traits allows us to understand how our decisions impact others. Researchers in Barcelona documented an essential component of human behavior in the social environment. By examining how 541 survey participants responded to questions about social dilemmas, the researches extrapolated that 90% of the population falls into four groups:

  • Envious (30%)
  • Optimistic (20%)
  • Pessimistic (20%)
  • Trusting (20%)

The Pandemic and Its Effect on Human Behavior

Our unique history and traits produce responses to our experiences that fall into these four groups. We can split these categories into competitive and collaborative buckets. Human behavior in the social environment hinges on whether we work together or pull at opposite ends of the rope.

COVID-19 produced tremendous acts of sacrifice as billions of people changed how they live to protect each other. Ill-advised behavior contributed to the pandemic’s growth, but many more people focused on collaboration.

Let’s look at some of the most significant effects of the pandemic on human behavior in the social environment.

#1 We’ve Adapted to New Challenges in Work and School

During childhood, personality and decision-making skills develop. Children learn from their parents, peers and teachers how to navigate social situations. The COVID-19 pandemic made in-person instruction difficult and raised questions of balancing student health with intellectual growth.

Statista estimated how many students participated in virtual versus in-person learning based on an April 2020 survey. The following categories show the various ways in which children were taught during the early stages of the pandemic:

  • 24.3 million students continued in-person learning at their schools
  • 23.1 million students received live virtual instruction from their teachers
  • 7.3 million students used recorded and prepared materials for asynchronous learning

The move to virtual learning was not universal in the United States and did not take place in an instant. School districts with ongoing in-person instruction used precautions like masks and social distancing to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

Professionals in a broad range of professions made similar adaptations during the pandemic. Thirty-four percent of workers worked remotely at least one day per week before the pandemic. This number increased to 59% after COVID-19, including 44% who have worked five or more days per week from home.

#2 Our Personal Limits Were Tested

A newly discovered virus that threatens loved ones, friends, and neighbors compromised our sense of safety. Stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, and other precautions left many people to confront the threat of COVID-19 on their own. Pew Research Center interviewed Americans about personal challenges during the pandemic, including a young respondent who said:

“The isolation has been the hardest, with everything shut down. It has been depressing. The constant quarantining got to my girlfriend of nearly two years, and we ended up breaking up.”

Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found 35% of adults experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression one month into the pandemic. This figure compares to an 11% rate during a KFF study in 2019.

Indeed, the impact of wide-scale stress during the pandemic was also recognized by insurance providers; for instance, Blue Cross Blue Shield made accommodations for telehealth services to help people cope “with the emotional impact of isolation and crisis.”

When considering human behavior in the social environment, this typically refers to how we act when we are around other people. Humans are social creatures, reliant on in-person contact as part of sustaining our interpersonal and relational dynamics.

COVID-19 prevented this fundamental aspect of our natural behavior, as people sought to protect each other.


changes to social behavior and community life

#3 We Experienced Changes to Social Behavior and Community Life

Although there were increased experiences of anxiety and depression due to the challenges of isolation, many did not lose hope and strived for the greater good. According to the Pew COVID-19 study, one participant noted positive behavior in her community.

“People in my community seem to be really interested in helping each other out. Sharing food, going shopping for older people, making masks and giving them to people, organizations, hospitals, nursing homes and the homeless.”

COVID-19 also altered our daily routines and access to our favorite places. The pandemic not only halted air travel and cruises; it made restaurants, community centers, and places of worship challenging to access. Fortune highlighted positive and negative changes to our social lives, including:

  • Moving from gyms to in-home workouts
  • Exploring the outdoors to avoid crowded areas
  • Focusing on home-cooked meals instead of take-out orders

The lure toward socialization was difficult to ignore during the pandemic. A one-year study of Ohio residents found 35% of respondents attended events with ten or more people as COVID-19 cases increased in 2020. This rate was a significant difference from the 10% of respondents who attended events as cases declined.

In-person community events may have halted during the pandemic, but new avenues opened for shared experiences. BBC summarized how human behavior in the social environment had evolved online during COVID-19:

“While being enormously disruptive and painful, crises also invariably nurture the emergence of great common purpose, solidarity, creativity and improvisation. And social media has opened little windows into how everybody else has responded and found their own coping mechanisms.”

#4 Our Perception of Trust Altered During the Pandemic

Difficult times can divide people into high-trust and low-trust groups. Pew Research Center studied general trust levels among respondents at the outset of COVID-19 and found that:

  • 57% of respondents said people look out for themselves on most occasions
  • 53% of respondents said most people can be trusted
  • 29% of respondents were considered high trusters

Edelman found 61% of respondents from 28 countries expressed confidence in business responses to the pandemic. This figure compared to 53% for governments and 51% for media outlets.

The Barcelona study of human behavior in the social environment aligns with these numbers. People in all four groups adjust their behaviors based on trust levels. The pandemic forced everyone to determine if they could trust others to make decisions that reduced COVID-19’s impact.

#5 Vaccines Rekindled Our Collective Hope

For many, the notion of vaccines lessening COVID-19’s grip on our world seemed far off during the pandemic’s early days. The development of vaccines is traditionally a long and complex process, often taking 10-15 years to complete.

Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna turned initial research on the virus into vaccines in little under a year. This feat of collaboration and scientific achievement ignited possibilities to a post-pandemic world.

In December 2020, 71% of respondents to a KFF survey said they would probably or definitely get a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 50% of Americans received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by June 2021. Moderna (No. 3) and Pfizer (No. 7) placed in the top 10 of the Axio Harris Poll 100 of most reputable companies due to their vaccine work.

Vaccine hesitancy received significant media attention but didn’t reflect the trust and optimism shown by millions of people. Medical research, along with knowledge accrued over one year of COVID-19, allows people to make the best decision for themselves. Many have felt a renewed sense of hope.


empower yourself to help others

Empower Yourself to Help Others

Although COVID-19 has impacted human behavior in the social environment, human beings are resilient. Many are inspired to help others continue to overcome challenges due to the pandemic and feel called to the spirit of service.

Spring Arbor University’s (SAU) online Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree prepares you to shape a better future and use your faith to grow personally and professionally.

SAU blends the convenience of online learning and a Christian educational philosophy so graduates can find balance and thrive as human services professionals. Transfer students are welcome thanks to an accommodating credit transfer process.

As an online Bachelor of Science in Human Services student, you can earn your degree in less than four years, allowing you to make direct impacts to your community. You’ll also experience a bright job outlook and countless career opportunities when you graduate.

Choose from a variety of work environments ranging from nonprofits and shelters to corrections facilities, rehabilitation centers and other case management services. As a human services professional, you can help meet the need for compassion and help others to improve their quality of life.


Learn more about SAU’s online Bachelor of Social Work degree.


Read more of Spring Arbor University online's top BSHS blogs below:

1. What Qualities Make an Effective Human Services Worker?

2. Human Services Degree: What Is It? What Can I Do With It?