What do you owe your neighbor? The pandemic may change your answer

To identify how the crisis has shaped people’s moral perspective, the study used an experimental technique commonly employed in psychology and economics, known as priming. Before asking broader questions about solidarity and inequality acceptance, we randomly asked half the respondents how the coronavirus crisis affected their community. These questions made the crisis top of mind for these respondents, creating the context in which they would then consider the questions about inequality, and therefore allowed us to show how exposure to the crisis shapes people’s moral perspective.

Using this technique, the survey showed that the crisis is moving Americans toward solidarity. Respondents who were primed to think about the coronavirus crisis were more likely to focus on society’s problems rather than personal problems. We found this shift independent of political affiliation, gender, age or geography. Overall, the share of respondents who put at least as much weight on society’s interests as their own increased by 3.3 percentage points, from 37.6 percent to 40.9 percent. (While that might seem small, such a difference is significant in this type of survey.)

The increase in solidarity may reflect that the crisis highlights the selfless behavior of others. The past weeks have put a spotlight on community engagement and, in particular, on the personal risks nurses and doctors are taking to treat their communities.

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