Fear and anxiety in the face of COVID-19: Negative dispositions towards risk and uncertainty as vulnerability factors.

Millroth P, Frey R

J Anxiety Disord 83 (-) 102454 [2021-07-14; online 2021-07-14]

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic it is important to identify factors that make people particularly vulnerable of developing mental-health issues in order to provide case-specific treatments. In this article, we examine the roles of two psychological constructs - originally put forth in the behavioral decision sciences - in predicting interindividual differences in fear responses: general risk aversion (GRA) and intolerance of uncertainty (IU). We first provide a review of these constructs and illustrate why they may play important roles in shaping anxiety-related disorders. Thereafter we present an empirical study that collected survey data from 550 U.S. residents, comprising self-assessments of dispositions towards risk and uncertainty, anxiety- and depression levels, as well as demographic variables - to thus test the extent to which these psychological constructs are predictive of strong fear responses related to COVID-19 (i.e., mortal fear, racing heart). The results from Bayesian multi-model inference analyses showed that GRA and IU were more powerful predictors of fear responses than demographic variables. Moreover, the predictive power of these constructs was independent of general anxiety- and depression levels. Subsequent mediation analyses showed that the effects of GRA and IU were both direct and indirect via anxiety. We conclude by discussing possible treatment options, but also highlight that future research needs to further examine causal pathways and conceptual overlaps.

Category: Public Health

Type: Journal article

PubMed 34298237

DOI 10.1016/j.janxdis.2021.102454

Crossref 10.1016/j.janxdis.2021.102454

pii: S0887-6185(21)00101-8
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Publications 7.1.2