Now, that the coronavirus outbreak has spread all across the world, people have been advised to follow social distancing. And while most of them are doing that, they also feel obligated about certain things like running errands for their parents or checking up on their neighbours. Researchers say that this sense of obligation can prove to be both good and bad for people.
“We were looking to find whether obligation is all good or all bad,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology and and co-author of the study. “When we started, we found that people were responding to types of obligations in different ways. People distinguished between requests that were massive obligations, and requests that were simple,” Chopik said.
Jeewon Oh, another co-author of the study says that obligation is sometimes the “glue that holds relationships together,” but can often carry negative connotations. “We found that some obligations were linked with greater depressive symptoms and slower increases in support from friends over time,” Oh said.
“The line in our study is when it crosses over and starts to be either a massive financial burden or something that disrupts your day-to-day life,” Chopik said. “While engaging in substantive obligation can benefit others and make someone feel helpful, it is still costly to a person’s time, energy and money,” he added.
“In a way, major obligations violate the norms of friendships,” Chopik said. “Interestingly, you don’t see that violation as much in relationships with parents or spouses,” he added. “Our longest lasting friendships continue because we enjoy them. But if obligations pile up, it might compromise how close we feel to our friends,” Chopik said. “Because friendships are a relationship of choice, people can distance themselves from friends more easily than other types of relationships when faced with burdensome obligations,” he said.
The researchers said that people follow through with obligations happily when they have a good relationship with their friends and family, otherwise, they do it quite begrudgingly. “It’s the little things you do that can really enhance a friendship, but asking too much of a friend can damage your relationship,” he added.