The present study uses the Chinese version of LIWC and Italian version of LIWC to extract the psycholinguistic features from social media users’ posts. Examinations of the features allow us to access the changes of psychological status before and after the lockdown in Wuhan and Lombardy.
4.2. Differences between Wuhan and Lombardy
We observe there are some differences between Wuhan and Lombardy after a lockdown in the use of LIWC word categories.
We find significant changes in three-word categories in Lombardy, including tentative
, and leisure
words. The use of tentative
words increases after a lockdown in Lombardy. The previous study shows that people may use tentative
language (e.g., maybe, perhaps, guess) when they feel uncertain or insecure about their topic [22
]. Our findings suggest that people tend to use tentative
words during the lockdown. Losing direct social contacts during the lockdown contributes to make residents feel losses of recreation, freedoms, and supports [1
]. Such a sense of loss means losing control of their healthy life, and people are likely to feel uncertain about the upcoming situation. Tweets reveal that people in Lombardy express such feelings on social media. However, we do not observe such change in Wuhan, suggesting that people in Wuhan do not convey the emotions of uncertainty in their posts on Weibo.
Our results show that Twitter users in Lombardy use more leisure
words in their posts after the lockdown. The increased use of leisure
words implies more focus on leisure activities after a lockdown in Lombardy. According to the news reports from CNBC (Consumer News and Business Channel), Italians turn to music to boost morale during lockdown [33
], which might be expressed in the use of leisure
in Tweets. On the contrary, we do not find the same change in the use of leisure
words in Wuhan. With the rapid growth of the pandemic, some people might focus more attention on the latest news of this disease on Weibo and discuss less about leisure after the lockdown. Moreover, some people may talk more about leisure and recreation after the lockdown, considering that the Lunar New Year holiday was in the lockdown period (25 January 2020, is the Spring Festival in China). Considering these two facets, we may find it reasonable to observe no change in the use of leisure
words in Wuhan.
The use of anxiety
words decreases in Lombardy. Anxiety
reveals self-reported stress [34
]. Our results imply that people feel less stressed after Lombardy lockdown. However, people do not experience any change of stress in Wuhan. Researchers find that unrealistic optimism is more evident for European North Americans [13
], which might be related to the different responses in the level of stress between Lombardy and Wuhan after the lockdown. However, our results are not consistent with existing studies [12
]. Rossi and colleagues consider that the strict measures of the lockdown in Italy serve as an unprecedented stressful event [12
]. Besides, Ahmed and colleagues find that 29% of respondents report different levels of anxiety related to lockdown at home in China [35
]. Such differences could be due to different research methods, design, measurements, and timeframe used in the study.
Some word categories are changing significantly after the lockdown only in Wuhan. The uses of first-person plural pronouns, second-person plural pronouns, religion, social, negative emotions, humans, certainty, affect, inhibition, and prepositions words increase. In contrast, the uses of motion, first-person singular pronouns, time, and money words decrease after the lockdown in Wuhan.
In Wuhan, the uses of the first-person plural pronouns, second-person plural pronoun
increase after a lockdown, while the use of first-person singular pronoun
decreases. Previous reports confirm that first-person singular pronouns
show attention to the self, whereas most other pronouns suggest attention to other individuals [36
]. Moreover, “we” implies a sense of group identity sometimes [37
]. Results suggest that people switch their attention from themselves to others and the communities after the lockdown. Besides, the increased use of “we” indicates that people focus more on the group, become more united, and share more group identity after a lockdown, which is consistent with some researchers’ opinions [1
]. China has a collectivistic culture, and Italy has an individualistic culture [38
]. Results show that the increased use of other pronouns and decreased use of first-person singular pronouns
suggest a collectivistic culture in China. At the same time, the absence of such a consequence in Lombardy might be related to the individualist culture. Researchers find that people sharing collectivist values stress more communal coping as a resource to cope with collective traumatic events [39
], which is consistent with our research conducted in the context of the lockdown.
Holmes and colleagues find that higher levels of the use of emotion words indicate more immersion in the negative event [40
]. In the study, we find that a higher degree of immersion [22
] evidenced by the frequent use of emotion words (negative emotion
and affective process
words). Therefore, people in Wuhan might get more emotional and are at a deeper level of immersion in negative emotions after the lockdown. However, we do not observe such a situation in Lombardy.
Besides, we also find a decrease in the use of motion
words after a lockdown in Wuhan. Our results are consistent with the previous mobility study of Wuhan [41
], suggesting that stringent mobility control leads to the reduction of movement in Wuhan. Google’s location mobility report in Lombardy shows an 85% decrease in activities at transit stations, a 57% drop in activities at workplaces, an 86% drop in activities at parks, and a 94% drop in activities at retail and recreation from 15 March 2020 to 26 April 2020. However, our results do not identify a significant change of mobility in the use of motion
words in Lombardy.
The increased use of social
words in Wuhan after the lockdown suggests the focus on social concerns and social support [22
]. Social support can make people feel better about their situation and reinforce the belief that they have access to support resources [16
]. Thus, seeking social support is considered adaptive for people during a lockdown. In contrast, we do not observe such a change in Lombardy.
shows increases in the uses of religion
words, while decreases in the uses of money
words after Wuhan lockdown. Content word categories explicitly reveal where individuals are focusing, including death, sex, and money [22
]. Moreover, our results suggest people focus more on humans and religion, while less on money and time during the lockdown. The previous study finds that religion can bring more positive and comforting emotions, and people tend to use it when suffering from emergencies such as stress or death [43
]. The increases in the use of religion
words suggest an adaptive behavior during the lockdown. Moreover, the decreased use of money
words may relate to fewer transactions under strict restrictions. In contrast, we do not identify any changes in these word categories among Lombardy Tweets. This result in Lombardy Tweets suggests that residents in Lombardy do not change their focus level on religion, human, time, and money after lockdown.
Besides, we find an increase in the use of prepositions
. Previous research shows that prepositions
signal more complex expression and detailed information about a topic [44
]. The increased use of prepositions
in Wuhan indicates broader and more in-depth discussions that occurred on Weibo after lockdown. However, such a change is not identified in Lombardy.
Study findings have implications for decision-makers, public health authorities, and practitioners. First, considering the efforts of adjusting to the changing environment in both Wuhan and Lombardy after the lockdown, decision-makers should ensure the supply chain functions as usual to ensure people’s confidence in having the control of their lives. Besides, public health authorities and practitioners could adjust their focus of service given the changes in residents’ attention after lockdown. For example, people in Wuhan expressed more stress and negative emotions, public health authorities and practitioners should take interventions to comfort them and relieve stress, such as the online consulting service and indoor activities. Notably, the support for individuals with pre-existing mental or physical health issues is also needed. Meanwhile, people did not show significant stress in Lombardy. Public health communities and practitioners might focus more on the popularization of pandemic prevention knowledge and the reinforcement of protection awareness.
There are several limitations. First, our samples were from selected active social media users only. The results have a limitation in generalizing to the whole population. Second, language differences exist between Chinese and Italian. While processing Italian text, some inevitable errors may occur because of the apostrophe. Third, we do not have access to the users’ IP, and location authentication is self-reported. There are some studies also applying self-reported location authentication to identify users’ locations [45
]. Fourth, the bias existing in two different platforms possibly influences the results of our study. Twitter users generally use more hashtags than Weibo users, which shows that Twitter users seem to be more eager to publicize their posts [46
]. In addition, Weibo users have a stronger tendency to post positive content compared to Twitter users [46
]. Considering these differences between Twitter and Weibo, future studies should find methods to deal with these differences to avoid biases when employing data from Weibo and Twitter.