COVID-19 Crisis Fuels Hostility against Foreigners
47 Pages Posted: 5 May 2020
Date Written: April 25, 2020
Intergroup conflicts represent one of the most pressing problems facing human society. Sudden spikes in aggressive behavior, including pogroms, often take place during periods of economic hardship or health pandemics, but little is known about the underlying mechanism behind such change in behavior. Many scholars attribute it to scapegoating, a psychological need to redirect anger and to blame an out-group for hardship and problems beyond one’s own control. However, causal evidence of whether hardship triggers out-group hostility has been lacking. Here we test this idea in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on the common concern that it may foster nationalistic sentiments and racism. Using a controlled money-burning task, we elicited hostile behavior among a nationally representative sample (n = 2,186) in a Central European country, at a time when the entire population was under lockdown and border closure. We find that exogenously elevating salience of thoughts related to COVID-19 pandemic magnifies hostility and discrimination against foreigners, especially from Asia. This behavioral response is large in magnitude and holds across various demographic sub-groups. For policy, the results underscore the importance of not inflaming racist sentiments and suggest that efforts to recover international trade and cooperation will need to address both social and economic damage.
Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic, scapegoating, hostility, inter-group conflict, discrimination, experiment
JEL Classification: C90, D01, D63, D91, J15
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation