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New Research Article Published in Nature Communications

New Research Article Published in Nature Communications

In the recently published article Changes in social norms during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic across 43 countries in Nature Communications, a global collaboration between 82 researchers studied how social norms change in response to disease threat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drawing on the influential tightness-looseness theory, which proposes that societies become “tighter” or more normatively constrained, when exposed to threats such as earthquakes, disease, wars, or famine, they anticipated that social norms would tighten after the emergence of COVID-19.

To test this, they built a unique dataset that combines rich existing data on social norms, collected just before the pandemic, with data that they collected from nearly 15,000 people in the same populations across the globe during the first months of the pandemic. By doing this, the researchers were able to identify how multiple social norms changed after the emergence of the disease. Surprisingly, and in contrast to expectations, tightness changed little as did most of their other measures of social norms.

Instead, social norms of handwashing, a norm perceived to be directly relevant to the threat of disease, became substantially stronger. These results suggest that in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, norms specifically related to the threat change quickly while tightness, or unrelated social norms, take longer, or require different specific threats, to change. This work makes a fundamental contribution to our understanding of social norm change and may help anticipate the future reactions of countries to similar crises and suggest intervention strategies to deal with them rapidly and effectively.

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