Award Abstract #2027027

RAPID: Changes in Social Attitudes and Behavior in Response to COVID-19

NSF Directorate:
SBE - Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences
NSF Division:

Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences

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Program Manager:

Steven Breckler

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Natalie J Shook [email protected] (Principal Investigator)


University of Connecticut
438 Whitney Road Ext.
Storrs CT 062691133

NSF Program:
Social Psychology
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For many U.S. citizens the rapidly increasing threat of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has led to widespread behavior change, including social distancing and self-quarantine. Determining the social and psychological factors that predict unwillingness to engage in preventative health behaviors is crucial to develop strategies for reducing widespread disease. This project identifies psychosocial factors associated with preventative behavior change, thereby highlighting who may be at greater risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 and future infectious diseases. The research will inform interventions designed to increase preventative health behaviors that reduce pathogen transmission. The threat of COVID-19 has also altered many social attitudes, including bias toward specific groups such as people of Asian descent. This project will shed light on the long-term consequences of such social changes for policy, international relations, and individual decision making.

This project informs and advances basic understanding of the human Behavioral Immune System (BIS). The BIS is theorized to encompass a variety of behaviors that humans adopt to reduce disease infection, making this research particularly timely. The research tests predictions regarding how fear of contagion influences health related behaviors and social attitudes. One goal is to quantify the extent to which social behaviors and attitudes have changed in response to the COVID-19 threat. The moderating effects of individual differences (personality traits, demographics, disgust sensitivity) will also be tested. The research utilizes a novel, intensive longitudinal design that follows a large nationally representative U.S. sample for one year. Data will be collected throughout the pandemic, decreasing in frequency as the threat subsides. Online surveys will assess preventative behaviors (e.g., handwashing, social distancing), social attitudes (prejudice, dangerous worldview, social beliefs), and individual difference variables. National statistics regarding COVID-19 prevalence in each survey respondent’s locale will also be collected to determine whether changes in social attitudes and behavior parallel changes in COVID-19 threat. The project will inform current and future efforts for increasing preventative health behaviors and reducing the spread of disease.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.