We systematically examine the acute impact of exposure to a public health crisis on anti-social behaviour and economic decision-making using unique experimental panel data from China, collected just before the outbreak of COVID-19 and immediately after the first wave was overcome. Exploiting plausibly exogenous geographical variation in virus exposure coupled with a dataset of longitudinal experiments, we show that participants who were more intensely exposed to the virus outbreak became more anti-social than those with lower exposure, while other aspects of economic and social preferences remain largely stable. The finding is robust to multiple hypothesis testing and a similar, yet less pronounced pattern emerges when using alternative measures of virus exposure, reflecting societal concern and sentiment, constructed using social media data. The anti-social response is particularly pronounced for individuals who experienced an increase in depression or negative affect, which highlights the important role of psychological health as a potential mechanism through which the virus outbreak affected behaviour.

Paul M. Lohmann, Elisabeth Gsottbauer, Jing You, Andreas Kontoleon, Anti-social behaviour and economic decision-making: Panel experimental evidence in the wake of COVID-19, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Volume 206, 2023, Pages 136-171, ISSN 0167-2681,

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