‘Idea of Sacrifice a complete nonstarter in US culture before Covid’: Pandemic spurred major shift in American values, study finds


Researchers from UCLA and Harvard University analyzed internet activity, namely online searches and social media posts, and found a significant return to more traditional, rural American values emerged as the pandemic took hold.

The team studied online activity during the two 10-week periods either side of March 13, 2020, the date Covid-19 was declared a national emergency in the US. 

In their analysis, they used Google searches as one metric to reflect societal mood and attitudes while the other was an examination of some 500,000,000 words and phrases posted online in places like Twitter, blogs and internet forums. 

They noticed a profound resurgence of community-oriented values; the use of the word “help” on Twitter increased by 37 percent, use of the word “share” increased by 24 percent and use of the word “sacrifice” more than doubled after March 13.

“’Sacrifice’ was a complete nonstarter in US culture before Covid,” senior author Patricia Greenfield said.

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Additional lexical markers also indicated a return to a more ‘rural’ mindset, with an emerging focus on the fundamental needs in life – food, clothing and shelter – reflected across Google, Twitter and elsewhere. 

This needs-based shift in attitudes was reflected in Google search terms like “grow vegetables” which increased 344 percent, “sewing machine” by 207 percent and mentions of “Home Depot” increased by 266 percent, indicating an increased interest in DIY. 

“Sourdough” saw the biggest proliferation in use, with Google searches increasing by a whopping 384 percent throughout the course of the pandemic, with references to “baking bread” surging into triple digits.

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On a somewhat darker note, people have also become more interested in their own mortality, as the Covid-19 death tolls nationwide skyrocketed. 

After March 13, searches for words like “survive” and “cemeteries” increased by 47 and 41 percent respectively. 

“Bury” and “death” were up by 23 and 21 percent respectively, while the use of the phrase “fear of death” increased on Twitter by 115 percent. 

“Death went from something taboo to something real and inevitable,” said co-lead author Noah Evers. 

“Perhaps this means that today’s youth will, in the future, create a country more attuned to sharing and helping others, or just that baking sourdough bread will always have a special place in our hearts.”

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