Felton JW, Rabinowitz JA, Strickland JC, Maher BS, Summers M, Key K, Johnson JE, and Yi R. Social vulnerability, COVID-19 impact, and decision making among adults in a low-resource community. Behav Processes 2022; 200:104668.
Socially vulnerable individuals, including those with greater exposure to adversity and social instability, are at greater risk for a variety of negative outcomes following exposure to public health crises. One hypothesized mechanism linking social vulnerability to poor health outcomes is delay discounting, the behavioral tendency to select smaller immediately available rewards relative to larger delayed rewards. However, little research has examined the impact of real-world disease outbreaks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, on the relation between social vulnerability and delay discounting. This study examined whether the severity of COVID-19 impact moderated the association between social vulnerability and delay discounting in a diverse sample of 72 human adults (M(age) = 42.4; 69% Black; 87% female) drawn from two low-resource urban areas. Contrary to hypotheses, results indicated that exposure to more severe COVID-19 impacts did not affect decision making among individuals with higher levels of social vulnerability. Conversely, findings suggest that individuals with lower levels of social vulnerability who reported more significant impacts of COVID-19 evidenced a greater tendency to select larger, delayed rewards relative to individuals with greater social vulnerability. Findings suggest the recent pandemic may influence the relation between social vulnerability and behavioral processes underlying health decision-making.