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COVID-19: The Role of Psychological Factors in the Spreading of Disease, Discrimination, and Distress

COVID-19 Research Area(s): Mental Health & Wellbeing

This study is designed to evaluate fear and anxiety in response to COVID-19 and they way different fear and anxiety profiles influence behaviour. The study involves a large multiple time point survey of Canadian and US participants. The survey will allow for a thorough understanding of different emotional response patterns to COVID-19, how these affect the way people behave, and what can be done to assist people in need of help.

COVID-19 arose in December 2019 in Wuhan, China and has rapidly spread throughout China and other parts of the world. It was recently declared a pandemic by the WHO. For both epidemics and pandemics, psychological factors play a major role in the spreading and containment of infection (e.g., non-adherence with hygiene guidelines, social distancing) and in societally disruptive behaviour (e.g., infection-related xenophobia, excessive fear and worry, overuse of healthcare resources); as such, psychological factors have important public health significance. We are conducting a series of studies, funded by CIHR, with the end goal of developing a rapid assessment system (assessment battery and online delivery platform) that can be used to assess, for any pandemic or major epidemic, infection-related excessive anxiety and xenophobia, and risk factors for these problems. To achieve this end goal, we are conducting 2 initial studies using community samples and with a specific focus on COVID-19. The goal of Study 1 will be to develop and validate measures of COVID-19-related anxiety and xenophobia (C-ANX, and C-XEN). In Study 2, these scales will be used to identify the correlates of C-ANX and C-XEN, which can then be used to identify the downstream impacts of these psychological reactions. Once the risk factors are identified, we plan to test interventions to reduce the risk factors, such as online treatments and online public health educational materials. The resulting assessment system will then be used to (a) monitor the psychological impact (as a public health problem) of the pandemic or epidemic, (b) identify people in need of psychological services, and (c) implement interventions for reducing infection-related xenophobia and excessive anxiety.