Relational Mobility Predicts Faster Spread of COVID-19: A 39-Country Study.

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It has become increasingly clear that COVID-19 is transmitted between individuals. It stands to reason that the spread of the virus depends on sociocultural ecologies that facilitate or inhibit social contact. In particular, the community-level tendency to engage with strangers and freely choose friends, called relational mobility, creates increased opportunities to interact with a larger and more variable range of other people. It may therefore be associated with a faster spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Here, we tested this possibility by analyzing growth curves of confirmed cases of and deaths due to COVID-19 in the first 30 days of the outbreaks in 39 countries. We found that growth was significantly accelerated as a function of a country-wise measure of relational mobility. This relationship was robust either with or without a set of control variables, including demographic variables, reporting bias, testing availability, and cultural dimensions of individualism, tightness, and government efficiency. Policy implications are also discussed.





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Salvador, Cristina E, Martha K Berg, Qinggang Yu, Alvaro San Martin and Shinobu Kitayama (2020). Relational Mobility Predicts Faster Spread of COVID-19: A 39-Country Study. Psychological science, 31(10). pp. 1236–1244. 10.1177/0956797620958118 Retrieved from

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Cristina E Salvador

Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

As a social and cultural psychologist, I examine how culture (a set of meanings and practices that make up daily realities we face) interfaces with biology to influence our thinking, feeling, and behavior. I analyze the influence of culture at multiple levels, including the brain, everyday language use, implicit measures, and big data. To pursue this overarching research agenda, I take three complementary approaches.

First, one powerful way to examine cultural influences is to draw systematic comparisons between groups. In one line of work, I find the psychological consequences of interdependence in cultures outside of East Asia (e.g., among Latin Americans, Indians, Arabs and Africans) are very different from what is documented in the literature. These ‘varieties of interdependence’ I am uncovering provide a new framework to think about the most studied construct in cultural psychology: interdependence.

Second, while many scholars acknowledge the importance of culture, there is debate about how deep cultural influences extend. I examine this by testing whether cultural differences are reflected in spontaneous neural responses. This approach has not only provided a new theoretical perspective for the study of the culture, but allowed the field to gain insights into culture that could not have been obtained with other methods. I describe two of these insights below, which include (i) cultural differences in default resting states and (ii) the nature of self-enhancement and self-criticism.

Third, daily social realities defined by social norms constitute a cultural environment. Yet, people are often unaware of their influence. To understand the influence of norms, I have examined (i) cultural factors that predict the spontaneous reactions to norms and (ii) how nations with more flexible relational norms have suffered a faster spread of COVID-19.

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