Public moral motivation during the COVID-19 pandemic: Analysis of posts on Chinese social media

Liang Zhao1, Xiaojun Ding1, Feng Yu2
1Institute of Social Psychology, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Xi'an Jiaotong University, People’s Republic of China
2Department of Psychology, School of Philosophy, Wuhan University, People’s Republic of China
Cite this article:  Zhao, L., Ding, X., & Yu, F. (2020). Public moral motivation during the COVID-19 pandemic: Analysis of posts on Chinese social media. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 48(11), e9829.

Volume 48 Issue 11 | e9829 | Published: November 2020 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.9829

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As COVID-19 struck worldwide, we were inspired by behavioral immune system theory and wondered whether there would be changes to public morality brought about by the pandemic. We tracked public reactions through posts on Chinese social media to analyze the dynamics of public moral motivation. Big data analysis shows that the impact of disaster upon moral motivation was context-sensitive. The level of the severity of the disaster played a leading role in variation of moral motivation. We found that disaster increased moral motivation only when the situation was severe, and such augmentation rapidly faded when the disaster was under control and recovery began. The sentiment of news shared during the pandemic played a regulating role, such that positive or encouraging news helped augment moral motivation only when the situation was severe. Finally, we found that the pandemic increased expressions of both agency and communion in a similar way to that of moral motivation.

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