Pandemic panic? Results of a 14 month longitudinal study on fear of COVID-19

G. Mertens*, P. Lodder, T. Smeets, S. Duijndam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
41 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Background
Fear is an evolutionary adaptive emotion that serves to protect the organism from harm. Once a threat diminishes, fear should also dissipate as otherwise fear may become chronic and pathological. While actual threat of the COVID-19 pandemic (i.e., number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths) has substantially varied over the course of the pandemic, it remains unclear whether (subjective) fear has followed a similar pattern.

Method
To examine the development of fear of COVID-19 during the pandemic and investigate potential predictors of chronic fear, we conducted a large online longitudinal study (N = 2000) using the Prolific platform between April 2020 and June 2021. Participants were voluntary response samples and consisted of residents of 34 different countries. The Fear of the Coronavirus Questionnaire (FCQ) and several other demographic and psychological measures were completed monthly.

Results
Overall, we find that fear steadily decreased since April 2020. Additional analyses showed that elevated fear was predicted by region (i.e., North America > Europe), anxious traits, gender, risks for loved ones, general health, and media use.

Limitations
The interpretation of the results of this study is limited by the non-representativeness of the sample and the lack of data points between August 2020 and June 2021.

Conclusions
This study helps to characterize the trajectory of fear levels throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and establish several relevant predictors of increased fear.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-23
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume322
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Fear
  • HEALTH ANXIETY INVENTORY
  • Health anxiety
  • Intolerance of uncertainty
  • Media
  • VALIDATION

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