Specific pandemic-related worries predict higher attention-related errors and negative affect independent of trait anxiety

Chris Brown, Ya-Chun Feng, Vlad Costin, Colette Hirsch, Yun-Han Wang, Yun-Lin Wang, Jowinn Chew, Jordan Kenny, Paul Allen

Research output: Working paperPreprint


Recent surveys have revealed a rise in anxiety levels, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on cognitive-emotional models of anxiety, we predict this increase may be underpinned by pandemic-related worry (PRW), characterised by repetitive negative thinking about pandemic-specific outcomes. We also predicted that PRW would occupy limited capacity cognitive resources required for attentional control, needed for the regulation of worry. We developed a novel instrument to measure the contents of PRW, and to explore its independent relationship with cognitive functioning and negative affect. A five-factor model of PRW was identified in Study 1 (N = 255) and validated in Study 2 (N = 382). In Study 2, regression analyses revealed that worries about the declining quality of life and the probability of COVID-19 infection were the strongest predictors of attention and memory-related errors. We also found that attention-related errors partially mediated the positive relationship between PRW and negative affect. Importantly, all analyses remained significant when controlling for recalled pre-pandemic trait anxiety and worry, suggesting that the relationships reflected elevated anxiety even in those with low levels of trait anxiety. The findings suggest that to support psychological wellbeing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, support should target specific PRWs.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Apr 2022

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