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HHD research team to evaluate impact of social distancing on family conflict and health

Mark Feinberg, research professor of health and human development, has been funded by the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences for his project “The Impact of COVID-19 and Social Distancing on Children and Families.” 

Feinberg and his collaborators will evaluate the impact of social distancing on family conflict and adult and child health, and assess which children and parents are the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of social distancing. 

At the same time, the team will examine the reverse, whether increases in family stress, especially family conflict and parent and child mental health due to social distancing, influence parents’ ability to sustain long-term implementation of social distancing practices. 

“Although social distancing is a frequently used intervention deployed in infection disease epidemics, we know very little about what influences a household’s ability to successfully maintain social distancing during a period of prolonged isolation and confinement,” said Feinberg. “This is critical to examine within families with children, as children are frequently a central disease transmission vector—in fact, social distancing interventions in past epidemics have often been limited to school closings.” 

“Ultimately, we hope to discover what are the points of resilience in families to manage this experience in optimal ways.” 

In addition to Feinberg, collaborators at Penn State include Gregory Fosco, co-principal investigor on the PROSPER Second Generation study, associate professor of human development and family studies, and associate director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center; Michelle Hostetler, assistant research professor; Jacqueline Mogle, assistant research professor; and Samantha Tornello, assistant professor of human development and family studies, psychology, and women’s gender and sexuality studies. Emily Hotez, project scientist at the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families, and Communities, will also be working on the project. 

As part of Penn State’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences has awarded seed-funding for COVID-19 projects university-wide. The projects span six core research areas, including social sciences, which address how COVID-19 has shaped health care messaging, public policy, and mental health beyond the immediate health impacts of the virus. For more information, visit Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences COVID-19 Research Response.