Fear of the coronavirus (COVID-19): Predictors in an online study conducted in March 2020

Preprint citation: Mertens, G., Gerritsen, L., Salemink, E., & Engelhard, I. (2020, April 2). Fear of the coronavirus (COVID-19): Predictors in an online study conducted in March 2020. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/2p57j


Fear is an adaptive response in the presence of danger. However, when threat is uncertain and continuous, as in the current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, fear can become chronic and burdensome. To better understand predictors of fear of the coronavirus, we conducted an online survey (N = 439) between March 14 and 17, 2020, which started three days after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Fear of the coronavirus was assessed with eight questions pertaining to different dimensions of fear (e.g., subjective worry, avoidance, preferential attention) and an open-ended question. The predictors included measures of psychological vulnerability factors (i.e., intolerance of uncertainty, worry, health anxiety), media exposure, and personal relevance (i.e., personal health, risk for loved ones, and risk control). We found that respondents reported a wide range of concerns relating to the coronavirus outbreak, such as their employment, spreading of the virus, and economic and societal consequences. Four predictors for fear of the coronavirus were retained after forward selection in a multiple regression analysis: intolerance of uncertainty, health anxiety, more media exposure, and risks for loved ones (R2 = .36). We discuss the relevance of our findings for managing people’s fear of the coronavirus.

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