Award Abstract #2032407

RAPID: Understanding the Process of Social Change through the Transitional Period of 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:

Jeffrey Mantz

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Katherine A Mason [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Yifeng Cai (Co-Principal Investigator)


Brown University

NSF Program:
Cultural Anthropology
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Effective management of COVID-19 requires public adherence to directives reliant on behavior change. This research will investigate how diverse groups of individuals understand, process, and react to risk and uncertainty posed by COVID-19, at both a personal and a collective level. It examines how social changes are impacted by the complex, often contradictory and emotion-laden communications about the pandemic. Special attention will be given to impacts of a perceived change in the projected course of the pandemic amidst concern about the future. Under these conditions, how do people modify their life projects or demonstrate resiliency? Results from the work will be communicated directly to health experts to ensure that insights will be relevant to current and subsequent waves of the pandemic. The research will provide training for a graduate and an undergraduate student in social epidemiological research.

This research augments processual models of social change through the addition of large-scale data from a diverse population during the pandemic. This theory posits a sequence of changes involving a period of break-down, followed by a transitional period that is navigated through human relationships, and culminating with the establishment of new social orders and structures. Using media analysis, and repeated waves of ethnographic observation and interviewing, the researchers will collect data that address how individual variation in the consumption of knowledge, affective states, and ideologies affect the timing and sequential elements of social change, and how such variation ultimately drives the behaviors that affect disease transmission (e.g., wearing masks, observing social distancing). The work provides a novel test of this sequence in communities displaying varying levels of commitment to collectivist ideologies and social order.

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.