Here is our ongoing work on the socio-cultural dynamics of the spread of COVID-19. We aim to explore the factors that shape the COVID-19 pandemic, thereby contributing to the emerging practical knowledge for the fight against this virus. We will upload preprints as we produce them for the fastest possible dissemination of our findings.

Kitayama, S., Camp, N. P., & Salvador, C. E. (in press).

Culture and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Multiple Mechanisms and Policy Implications.

Social Issues and Policy Review

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has taken a massive toll on human life worldwide. The case of the United States—the world’s largest economy—is particularly noteworthy, since the country suffered a disproportionately larger number of deaths than all other countries during the first year of the pandemic. A careful analysis may shed new light on the multifaceted processes contributing to this failure and help us prepare ourselves not to repeat the same mistakes in the future. Cultural psychology offers unique insights on these shortcomings, as it examines mutually reinforcing interactions across collective, cultural, and psychological levels of analysis. Here, we review extant evidence and argue that various factors at these disparate levels converged to foster an independent mode of action, which, in turn, undermined effective coping with the infectious disease. The lack of effective political leadership exacerbated the resulting dire state of the country. Drawing on this analysis, we discuss several policy recommendations at collective, cultural, and psychological levels.

Click here for our accepted manuscript

Kitayama, S. (in press)

How will collective-level dynamics influence the spread of COVID-19?

The Social Science of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has overwhelmed the entire humanity. Even though a virus—a biological agent composed of DNA—causes the infectious disease, the virus’s behavior is nearly entirely contingent on human behavior. Hence, we must bring together the theories and evidence of social and behavioral sciences to understand how the virus spreads. In this chapter, I analyze three collective-level dynamics: (a) Pluralistic ignorance (which induces complacency), (b) Ego-centric motivations (which leads to depletion of collective-level resource), and (c) Individualistic cultural ethos (which is related to both loose social norms and more frequent contacts with distant others). In combination, these three collective-level processes contribute powerfully to the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. I conclude with a discussion of evidence-based policy recommendations and a plea for basic research anchored in the urgent practical issues of society.

Click here for our accepted manuscript

Yu, Q., Salvador, C. E., Melani, I., Berg, M. K., Neblett, E. W., & Kitayama, S. (2021)

The lethal spiral: Racial segregation and economic disparity jointly exacerbate the COVID-19 fatality in large American cities

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the deep divides within American society, including a disproportionate number of fatalities among low-income and minority groups. This division highlights the urgent need to study national, cultural, and social-structural determinants of the spread of infectious diseases. The current work is an initial step in this direction. We observe that communities that have suffered the most during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States are those with high economic disparity and racial segregation. Our data indicates that American cities must be both more economically equal and less racially segregated if they aspire to be virus-resilient.

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Salvador, C. E., Berg, M. K., Yu, Q., San Martin, A., & Kitayama, S. (2020)

Interdependent self-construal predicts complacency under pathogen threat: An electrocortical investigation

Biological Psychology

Prior evidence suggests that external threat motivates people to monitor norm violations. However, the effect of threat may be attenuated for those high in interdependent self-construal (SC) since this SC affords a sense of protection against the threat. Here, we tested this possibility by priming or not priming young American adults with a pathogen threat. We then had participants read norm-violating or normal behaviors while assessing two electrocortical markers: N400 (indexing the detection of norm violations) and suppression of upper α-band power (indexing vigilance to the violations). In the threat priming condition, interdependent SC predicted decreased responsiveness to norm violations. In the control priming condition, however, interdependent SC predicted increased responsiveness. Our work suggests that interdependent SC may provide a sense of security under threat.

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Salvador, C. E., Berg, M. K., Yu, Q., San Martin, A., & Kitayama, S. (2020)

Relational mobility predicts a faster spread of COVID-19: A 39 country study

Psychological Science

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all countries on the globe. However, some countries have suffered far more than some other countries. It is of utmost significance to understand factors explaining this cross-country variation. Here, we report the first evidence that this cross-country variation in vulnerability to COVID-19 may be due in part to cultural practices of social relationships. In particular, we found the spread of this virus in part depends on how broad or narrow the range of people one has the opportunity to relate to and interact with — a dimension called relational mobility (RM). Compared to their low RM counterparts, countries with higher RM showed a significantly steeper slope in the spread of the virus during the very early period of country-wise outbreaks, before state-imposed mobility restrictions took hold. This evidence underscores the need for social distancing to “flatten the curve,” especially in countries that value social openness.

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Berg, M. K., Yu, Q., Salvador, C. E., Melani, I., & Kitayama, S. (2020)

Mandated Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination predicts flattened curves for the spread of COVID-19

Science Advances

In this paper, we tested whether countries that mandate BCG vaccination show flattened growth curves in COVID-19 infections and deaths, compared to those that do not. To minimize artifacts, we examined the rate of the spread of the virus (as revealed in both confirmed cases and resulting deaths), rather than the total number of cases or deaths. Moreover, we focused on the first 30 days of country-wise outbreaks while controlling for various confounding variables, such as population density and the median age of each of the populations tested. We found that countries that still maintain mandated BCG policies (e.g., China, Finland, and France) show significantly flatter growth curves, compared to those that had one only during the 20th century (e.g., Australia, Ecuador, and Spain) or those that never had one (e.g., Italy, Lebanon, and the U.S.). The effect is substantial. In our estimate, the U.S., for example, would have suffered only 19% of the actual death toll due to COVID-19 if it had instituted a nation-wide policy of mandated BCG vaccination several decades ago. In addition, we observed that there is no benefit left for the countries that abolished such national policies during the 20th century. This second finding indicates that for the BCG vaccination to be effective, a vast majority of people in the population must be made resistant against the virus, thereby inviting important policy implications.

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Habersaat, K. B., et al. (2020)

Ten considerations for effectively managing the COVID-19 transition

Nature Human Behaviour

Here, psychological researchers got together and offered ten policy recommendations for the fight against COVID-19.

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Van Bavel, J. et al. (2020)

Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response

Nature Human Behaviour

Here is a fascinating collective effort by 30+ social and behavioral scientists offering perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you, Jay and Robb, for organizing this effort in such a timely fashion! The resulting paper made available below, we hope, is the beginning of numerous contributions to be made by psychologists in the coming months to the challenges the current pandemic poses on humanity. The relevance of culture is thrown into sharp relief in the section specifically dedicated to this topic, penned by Michele Gelfand and Shinobu Kitayama.

Click here for our published manuscript