Award Abstract #2029575

RAPID: Older adults’ learning and adaptation as resilience processes to counter social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic

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

Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences

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Program Manager:

Soo-Siang Lim

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Rachel Wu [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Carla M Strickland-Hughes (Co-Principal Investigator)


University of California-Riverside
RIVERSIDE CA 925219800

NSF Program:
Sci of Lrng & Augmented Intel
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The mental health and well-being of older adults are being threatened by the COVID-19 social distancing requirements that have limited social connectivity. For older adults, long-term social isolation predicts cognitive decline trajectories, reduced subjective well-being, and increased mortality. Thus, the COVID-19 global pandemic could intensify negative aging trajectories, even for healthy older adults. The proposed research will investigate factors that lead to or mitigate against social isolation and loneliness amid the current physical distancing restrictions. The primary hypothesis is that resilience across adulthood is dependent on two theoretically-derived factors: engagement in novel skill learning and positive personal beliefs. The results of these studies could guide the design of future interventions, such as supportive learning opportunities through technology. The unknown duration of the physical distancing restrictions, and the potential for future waves of infection drive the urgency of this research to develop enhanced resilience pathways.

This RAPID proposal seeks to examine social distancing in older adults and other potentially vulnerable populations through three aims: 1) Investigate how and to what extent different demographic groups (e.g. age, SES) are staying socially connected despite physical distancing; 2) Evaluate how learning and adaptive behaviors, and personal beliefs about age/abilities, predict successful social connectivity, higher subjective well-being, and lower levels of isolation and loneliness during the pandemic; and 3) Conduct match pair-comparisons with older adults who previously participated in a learning intervention promoting adaptation and positive beliefs. Integrating beliefs and behaviors to predict outcomes is central to Social Cognitive Theory. The current research will collect data before and after restrictions are revised to assess an extended conceptual model of this theory that focuses specifically on novel skill learning for adaptation. Findings from this project will inform development of infrastructures to better support older adults under social distancing practices of COVID-19 and other future crises.

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.