VUB research explores solidarity in times of corona

VUB research explores solidarity in times of corona

97% of respondents do their bit, and every little helps: from applause to grocery shopping

Researchers from the Educational Sciences department at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel have studied our solidarity during the coronavirus crisis. Using a short questionnaire, they examined the various initiatives citizens are involved in, and their reasons for doing so. Professor Sarah Dury: “In this study, we looked at the actions citizens undertook during one week, in terms of helping family, friends, neighbours and strangers. The results indicate that because we are all in the same situation, we can better empathise with someone else’s circumstances, and people want to show this through their actions.

The study presented three key findings: people primarily engage through maintaining social contact with loved ones; the most important motivator is concern for each other; and people mainly help family, friends and neighbours, across the generations.

1. Little things help

The first results indicate that the three most frequent actions are social contact, moral support and grocery shopping. 85% of respondents said they had social contact with family and friends via phone, online or in a letter. Applauding frontline workers at 20.00, hanging up a white flag and similar activities related to moral support were indicated by half of respondents. One-third also help by collecting shopping for friends or family, and 10% said they did this for neighbours too. One in 10 said they volunteered via a support platform in order to provide social contact for strangers.

2. ‘We are all in the same boat’ = we’re better at understanding another’s situation

The study also looked at the main motivations for offering help and support. The VUB researchers noted that the most important factor is concern about each other. In these times, people find it important to help others, and feel responsible socially as well as towards their own family. Prof Dury: “People see the need within their own situation and are therefore more driven to do something for others. People also feel connected to others and want to demonstrate this.” Lots of people also reported that it was satisfying to help others during this time.

3. Family, friends and neighbours first – and reciprocally

The support actions in the study were primarily directed towards parents (47.4%), partner (36.3%), friends (31.6%) and children (30.1%), followed by grandparents (19.6%) and neighbours (19.4%). This indicates that people first offer help to those they have a close bond with. At the same time, weaker, more superficial relationships such as those with neighbours have become more prominent during this crisis. Many people are now more dependent on their neighbourhood, which may help us understand how valuable these weaker bonds can be. Prof Dury: “People seem to be concerned for each other and display lots of responsibility, not only for friends and family but also for neighbours and strangers. In terms of reciprocity, we see that of those who have provided help, 28.6% received help in return.”

And the future?

Asked whether they would continue to support others in the future, 80% said they would like to while 20% didn’t believe they would. A further study will follow. Approximately 1,000 people indicated they would participate in a follow-up, which will further map social resilience.

Study design

More than 2,000 people took part in the study. The average age was 40, 75% were women, 15% lived alone, 82% lived in Flanders and 15% in the Brussels-Capital Region.

While 2,000 people participated, the study is not representative of the Belgian population; it reflects instead a subgroup with the ability to participate (internet access and smartphone/tablet/computer) and interest in the subject.


Sarah Dury


Contact us
Sarah Dury Prof. Agogische Wetenschappen
Lies Feron
Lies Feron Wetenschapscommunicatie Persrelaties
Sarah Dury Prof. Agogische Wetenschappen
Lies Feron
Lies Feron Wetenschapscommunicatie Persrelaties
About Press - Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an internationally oriented university in Brussels, the heart of Europe. By providing excellent research and education on a human scale, VUB wants to make an active and committed contribution to a better society.

The World Needs You

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel assumes its scientific and social responsibility with love and decisiveness. That’s why VUB launched the platform De Wereld Heeft Je Nodig – The World Needs You, which brings together ideas, actions and projects based on six Ps. The first P stands for People, because that’s what it’s all about: giving people equal opportunities, prosperity, welfare, respect. Peace is about fighting injustice, big and small, in the world. Prosperity combats poverty and inequality. Planet stands for actions on biodiversity, climate, air quality, animal rights... With Partnership, VUB is looking for joint actions to make the world a better place. The sixth and last P is for Poincaré, the French philosopher Henri Poincaré, from whom VUB derives its motto that thinking should submit to nothing except the facts themselves. VUB is an ‘urban engaged university’, strongly anchored in Brussels and Europe and working according to the principles of free research.


Press - Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Pleinlaan 2
1050 Brussel