Empathy Not Quarantined: Social Support via Social Media Helps Maintain Empathy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Xuebing Qin*, Fan Yang, Zhibin Jiang, Bu Zhong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The Covid pandemic had turned the world upside down, but not much is known about how people’s empathy toward others in difficult situations might be affected by the pandemic. Based on a nationally representative sample (N = 943) from China, this study first let participants read three real scenarios and then measured: (1) how empathy toward others might be influenced by the perceived social support people obtained by using social media (i.e., WeChat); and (2) how different demographics such as age and gender as well as lockdown situations may affect preserving empathetic during the Covid outbreak. Results show that perceived social support via WeChat not only positively impacted empathy but also interacted with anxiety in influencing the degree to which participants could maintain empathy toward others. Those living in cities or towns with higher incomes were more empathetic to others. While anxiety does not necessarily decrease empathy, those who reported gaining more social support on social media showed more empathy toward others despite their elevated levels of anxiety. Age negatively predicted empathy, but gender and lockdown conditions did not impact empathy. This study contributes to the literature by identifying the critical role empathy plays in people’s affective response to others during a public health crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Media and Society
Volume8
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Computer Science Applications

User-Defined Keywords

  • anxiety
  • Covid
  • empathy
  • social media
  • social support
  • WeChat

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