TORONTO -- People around the world have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and those negative impacts may have altered their cognitive abilities, risk avoidance and civic-mindedness for the worse, new research suggests.

A peer-reviewed study published in Scientific Reports analyzed questionnaires from 4,890 participants in Italy, Spain and the U.K. from the first and second wave of the pandemic. The questionnaires collected information on the negative impacts of lockdowns, as well as the participants’ risk avoidance, decision-making ability, and altruism.

"We wanted to explore the impact of lockdown and other COVID-19-related restrictions on people's lives and how this affected their decision-making," Francisco Lupianez, professor of Information and Communication Sciences, said in a press release.

The results showed that the more someone suffered from the impacts of lockdown, measured in economic, health, mental health and stress related consequences, the more likely they were to have reduced cognitive abilities, increased risk taking and behave more selfishly.

"Instead of being more careful because they were in a pandemic, they were taking risks, because they couldn't take it anymore,” said Lupianez.

In regards to their attitude towards others, they favoured punishment and were less forgiving.

“They wanted, for example, those who did not wear masks or evaded restrictions to be punished, even though they themselves were more likely to make riskier choices,” he said.

The author of the study found that people were making life-changing decisions based on short-term perspectives. The research showed that people wanted instant gratification, making quick decisions that would have normally been well thought out and considered.

Researchers use the example of many people moving from cities to rural areas as a result of the pandemic.

"These were decisions in which the cost-benefit assessment was highly conditioned by the pandemic. It seemed as if the world was coming to an end and people preferred to benefit today, immediately, without thinking about tomorrow," said Lupianez.

The authors say that their findings have important implications for future public health responses as they’ve been able to demonstrate that current pandemic mitigation strategies, such as lockdowns, have had significant negative consequences on peoples’ lives. It is important, they said, that these be taken into account in “designing better responses and communication campaigns for future pandemics.”