Does Regional Variation in Pathogen Prevalence Predict the Moralization of Language in COVID-19 News?

Musa Malik, Frederic R. Hopp, Yibei Chen, René Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


While there is substantial research on COVID-19’s general framing in the news, little is known about the antecedents and moderators of using moral language in communicating the disease to audiences. In this study, we rely on the Model of Intuitive Morality and Exemplars to explore how news media’s attention on COVID-19 and moralizing language in COVID-19 news vary with respect to ultimate (historical pathogen prevalence) and proximate (spread of COVID-19) socio-psychological factors. Specifically, we analyzed 1,024,800 news headlines from 28 countries published throughout 2020 and applied automated content analysis for moral language extraction. Our results provide support for increased media attention and higher levels of moralizing language in COVID-19 news for regions with high historical pathogen prevalence and COVID-19 spread. We discuss the theoretical impact of these findings in view of the socio-psychological relevance of moralizing language for disease-related news and point towards future research directions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-676
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Language and Social Psychology
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The authors received financial support from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (to R.W.), contract grant number: W911NF-15-2-0115; and from the John Templeton Foundation (to R.W.), contract grant number: 61292.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • COVID-19
  • computational methods
  • global news media
  • historical pathogen prevalence
  • moral language


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