Using a Cultural and Social Identity Lens to Understand Pandemic Responses in the US and India

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The world over, countries have been racing to control the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Central to the mitigation of the virus spread is the ability of nations to ensure behavior of its people adheres to the constraints imposed in the wake of the pandemic. However, there has been much variation in how individuals and collectives have responded in conformance to expected behavioral changes necessitated by the pandemic. The paper offers a cross-cultural and social identity perspective based on group categorizations to understand the variation in pandemic responses in the context of two different countries, that of India and the United States. Relevant cultural dimensions of difference shaping behavior such as individualism-collectivism, power distance, and other cultural norms shaping divergent behavioral responses in the US and India are examined. Differing group categorizations relevant for each country are also explored to understand the dynamics of behavioral response, be it adherence to mask wearing and following norms of social distancing, or the migrant labor exodus in India from urban to rural areas amidst the first wave of the pandemic. Implications for managing behavioral responses considering cross-cultural differences and group categorization processes are also discussed.


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