February 5, 2022

Harming and shaming through naming: Examining why calling the coronavirus the “COVID-19 Virus,” not the “Chinese Virus,” matters.

Holt, L. F., Kjærvik, S. L., & Bushman, B. J.

Media Psychology


In an effort to stave off racial and geographic prejudices, The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised against naming pathogens for geographic regions. Despite this, some media reports, and prominent politicians, have persisted in calling the coronavirus the “Chinese Virus,” or some variant thereof. In this pre-registered online experiment (N = 614), we examined the effect media frames and individual factors (i.e., political affiliation and party) had on perceptions of COVID-19, prejudice against Chinese- and Asian-Americans, and attributing blame to China for the coronavirus. We found that articles that labeled the coronavirus the “Chinese Virus” (versus the “COVID-19 Virus”) were perceived less favorably by Democrats and liberals, in comparison to Republicans and conservatives, who were also more likely to express greater racial prejudice against Chinese- and Asian-Americans and to blame China for the pandemic. Findings from this study suggest that amongst a host of other variables, media framing has an effect on the public’s attitudes and feelings of blame for the pandemic.

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