Funded Grants

A Methodology for Studying the Dynamics of Resilience of College Students

Resilience, the ability of a person to manage their own anxiety and cope with a changing environment, is a key psychological construct that is becoming increasingly salient in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events and political and social unrest. Previous work in psychology and organizational psychology focused on measuring resilience as a trait and determining factors that affect it. While data-driven longitudinal methods that focus on changes over time at both individual and group levels within a social context are key to determining and understanding resilience and its change over time, previous work is limited methodologically to surveys, which rely on self-report and do not measure such dynamic aspects of resilience.

We will address this research gap through two research aims: (1) developing and assessing novel data-driven methods for studying resilience through context-rich, real-world-like environments to explore cognition longitudinally, and (2) using this data-driven methodology to study resilience among college students, specifically how it manifests itself and evolves over time. Moreover, we aim to study how individual resilience impacts college students and how they learn new coping strategies over time through small group interactions as groups face unpredictable events.

Our novel approach uses Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), games that embed participants in an alternate narrative but use physical locations and real-world applications such as mobile phone text messages. Although psychologists have noted this promising use, to our knowledge there has not been any study demonstrating the validity of using ARGs for studying human cognition, and, in particular, resilience. ARGs has the potential to transform psychology research, including an environment where researchers can: (1) observe participants in a (semi-)controlled manner through real-world temporal interactions, (2) engage participants over time with real consequences, (3) systematically and automatically collect multidimensional context-rich data about participants’ actions and the settings within which these actions are made as well as deliver surveys over time, (4) scale and replicate studies with hundreds to potentially thousands of participants, and (5) allow precise modeling and measurement of team and individual behaviors.

We will develop the ARG using a participatory design method where participants become co-designers in the process of development. This is meant to ensure that participants are motivated by the narrative and the activities designed. We will then use the ARG to conduct several studies with first year college students as our target population. We will use sequential modeling and qualitative analysis to analyze the behavioral and survey data collected to understand resiliency and coping strategies, self-efficacy, affect, and understand how these constructs change over time and are influenced by the tasks, context, and group members.

Given that previous work has not explored the dynamics of resilience or understand how it evolves over time, we contribute a new methodological approach to study the dynamics of resilience, which will lead to several broader impacts, including a methodology that others can use to study dynamics of other psychological phenomena. Further, results of our studies on resilience can guide future studies on interventions that can increase resilience.