Viral Social Media Videos Can Raise Pro-social Behaviours When an Epidemic Arises

Youting Guo, Wuhan University
Jason Shachat, Chapman University
Matthew J. Walker, Durham University
Lijia Wei, Wuhan University

ESI Working Paper 20-14


Effective responses to quickly emerging public health emergencies benefit from high levels of cooperation and pro-social behaviour amongst community members. Shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan, China, we conducted an experiment assessing the impact of viral social media videos on individual preferences and tendencies for pro-social behaviours. We administered a panel of financially incentivized behavioural economics tasks to 236 Wuhan University students. Prior to the completing of these tasks, participants viewed one of three videos culled from Chinese social media. The video either showed a central government leader visiting a local hospital and supermarket, health care worker volunteers from other provinces transiting to Wuhan or an emotionally neutral video unrelated to the emergency. We find that viewing one of the first two videos leads to higher levels of pro-sociality and increased ambiguity aversion relative to the third video. The leadership video, however, induces lower levels of trust. Our results suggest ways to craft more effective crisis response efforts and provide insights into how the direction of information in hierarchies influences trust in community members during a crisis.