Covid-19 has created an epidemic of worry. In China, a recent study found the prevalence of anxiety to be around 25%. Other countries show similar trends.

This is remarkable given that the typical worldwide anxiety rate is estimated to be 4%.

Who is most likely to suffer from Coronavirus-induced anxiety? New research forthcoming in the journal Personality and Individual Differences has an answer.

A team of researchers led by Marta Malesza of the University of Economics and Human Sciences in Warsaw, Poland found that the top three factors associated with high Coronavirus anxiety are:

  1. How dangerous people perceive Covid-19 to be
  2. How much information people obtain about Covid-19
  3. How likely people are to think they will contract the disease

In fact, the researchers identified 11 significant predictors of high Covid-19 anxiety in total. Here are the remaining eight:

  • Chronic illness. People with chronic illnesses exhibit higher Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Children. Adults with children show higher Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Age. Older individuals exhibit higher Coronavirus anxiety.
  • Frequency of recommended protective behaviors. People who are more apt to engage in protective behaviors such as hand-washing, sanitizing, and mask-wearing exhibit Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Gender. Women exhibit more Covid-19 anxiety than men.
  • General health condition. Healthier people exhibit less Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Relationship between catching Covid-19 and one’s own behavior. People who lack the belief that the likelihood of catching Covid-19 depends on one’s own behavior show greater Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Marital status. Married individuals show higher levels of Covid-19 anxiety.

To arrive at these conclusions, the researchers conducted a survey of 1069 Polish adults, fielded between March 29th and April 17th, 2020. Forty-two people were omitted from analysis because they had tested positive for Covid-19.

The researchers urge caution in interpreting these results given the correlational nature of the study. For instance, it is not clear whether factors such as “frequency of recommended protective behaviors” are causes or consequences of heightened Covid-19 anxiety. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that the data are only from Poland. It is possible that the factors associated with Covid-19 anxiety are different in other parts of the world.

Limitations notwithstanding, the study raises some interesting hypotheses. For one, it provides further evidence that people’s perception of the risk posed by Covid-19 does not correspond with the objective reality of the situation. For instance, it is curious that the amount of information one obtains through various sources (television, Internet, newspaper/magazines, health officials, friends/family, word of mouth, etc.) is more closely linked to Covid-19 anxiety than factors such as one’s general health condition, age, and the presence of chronic illness. It also supports the idea that traditional risk-takers — younger, less educated males — are among those least likely to exhibit Covid-19 anxiety, with one important caveat: information obtained about Covid-19, not education level, predicted coronavirus anxiety.

There’s also insight to be found in the factors unrelated to Covid-19 anxiety. Apart from finding no relationship between education level and coronavirus anxiety, the researchers found income, perceived severity of the long-term consequences, perceived likelihood of surviving if infected, and beliefs regarding the government’s ability to effectively control the pandemic to be unrelated to Covid-19 anxiety.

The authors conclude, “Results indicate that the Polish population was well aware of the Covid-19 outbreak, and obtained their information primarily from television and Internet, which were also rated as trustworthy sources of information. Such media attention may have been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, rapid communication of the risks of infection would seem to promote healthy behavior change and reduce the spread of contagion. On the other hand, mass media coverage of a pandemic can potentially lead to mass hysteria and fear; as was observed during the 2005 outbreak of the avian flu during which greater television exposure was associated with greater fear of this illness.”

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