Encouraging the resumption of economic activity after COVID-19: Evidence from a large scale-field experiment in China

Juan Palacios , Yichun Fan, Erez Yoeli, Jianghao Wang, Yuchen Chai, Weizeng Sun , David G. Rand, Siqi Zheng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


As the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end, governments find themselves facing a new challenge: motivating citizens to resume economic activity. What is an effective way to do so? We investigate this question using a field experiment in the city of Zhengzhou, China, immediately following the end of the city’s COVID-19 lockdown. We assessed the effect of a descriptive norms intervention providing information about the proportion of participants’ neighbors who have resumed economic activity. We find that informing individuals about their neighbors’ plans to visit restaurants increases the fraction of participants visiting restaurants by 12 percentage points (37%), among those participants who underestimated the proportion of neighbors who resumed economic activity. Those who overestimated did not respond by reducing restaurant attendance (the intervention yielded no “boomerang” effect); thus, our descriptive norms intervention yielded a net positive effect. We explore the moderating role of risk preferences and the effect of the intervention on subjects’ perceived risk of going to restaurants, as well as the contrast with an intervention for parks, which were already perceived as safe. All of these analyses suggest our intervention worked by reducing the perceived risk of going to restaurants.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2100719119
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes

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