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Functional and dysfunctional fear of COVID-19: a classification scheme

Published onFeb 05, 2021
Functional and dysfunctional fear of COVID-19: a classification scheme
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Functional and dysfunctional fear of COVID-19: a classification scheme

AbstractWorry about COVID-19 is a central topic of research into the social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this paper, we present a new way of measuring worry about catching COVID-19 that distinguishes between worry as a negative experience that damages people’s quality of life (dysfunctional) and worry as an adaptive experience that directs people’s attention to potential problems (functional). Drawing on work into fear of crime, our classification divides people into three groups: (1) the unworried, (2) the functionally worried (where worry motivates proactive behaviours that help people to manage their sense of risk) and (3) the dysfunctionally worried (where quality of life is damaged by worry and/or precautionary behaviour). Analysing data from two waves of a longitudinal panel study of over 1000 individuals living in ten cities in England, Scotland and Wales, we find differing levels of negative anxiety, anger, loneliness, unhappiness and life satisfaction for each of the three groups, with the dysfunctionally worried experiencing the most negative outcomes and the functionally worried experiencing less negative outcomes than unworried. We find no difference between groups in compliance and willingness to re-engage in social life. Finally, we show a difference between the dysfunctionally worried compared with functional and unworried groups in perceptions of risk (differentiating between likelihood, control and consequence). This finding informs what sort of content-targeted messaging aimed at reducing dysfunctional worry might wish to promote. We conclude with some thoughts on the applicability of our measurement scheme for future research.



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