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Viral social media videos can raise pro-social behaviours when an epidemic arises

Guo, Y. and Shachat, J. and Walker, M.J. and Wei, L. (2021) 'Viral social media videos can raise pro-social behaviours when an epidemic arises.', Journal of the Economic Science Association, 7 (2). pp. 120-138.


Access to information via social media is one of the biggest differentiators of public health crises today. During the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak in January 2020, we conducted an experiment in Wuhan, China to assess the impact of viral social media content on pro-social and trust behaviours and preferences towards risk taking with known and unknown probabilities. Prior to the experiment, participants viewed one of two videos that had been widely and anonymously shared on Chinese social media: a central government leader visiting a local hospital and supermarket, or health care volunteers transiting to Wuhan. In a control condition, participants watched a neutral video, unrelated to the crisis. Viewing one of the leadership or volunteer videos leads to higher levels of pro-sociality and lesser willingness to take risks in an ambiguous situation relative to the control condition. The leadership video, however, induces lower levels of trust. We provide evidence from two post-experiment surveys that the video’s impact on pro-sociality is modulated by influencing the viewer’s affective emotional state.

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Publisher statement:Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Date accepted:16 August 2021
Date deposited:26 August 2021
Date of first online publication:01 September 2021
Date first made open access:15 September 2021

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