NSU Scientists Survey Emotional Response to COVID-19

Scientists at the NSU V. Zelman Institute of Medicine and Psychology (VZIMP) conducted a survey on human behavior in the context of uncertainty due to COVID-19 pandemic. The survey pool consisted of 2,837 respondents, men and women ages 17 to 81, who answered questions on how they are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, they filled out the Multiple Stimulus Types Ambiguity Tolerance- Scale II (MSTAT-II) questionnaire that was developed by David A. McLain.

Olga Pervushina, Head of the Personality Psychology Section, Deputy Director VZIMP Psychology Department, and survey team leader described the relevance of their work,

This study relates to the professional interests of several VZIMP scientists. The global pandemic presents many aspects of uncertainty. It provided a unique set of circumstances for research when the whole world is faced with a unified threat. That was the origin of our interest in conducting a large-scale study on how people perceive and experience this situation, how their psychological state changes under these conditions, how measures are taken by the government, the role played by news reports charting the course of the pandemic, etc.

The Novosibirsk research team view the current global situation as one in which a large part of humanity finds itself confronted with uncertainty. That provided the foundation for analyzing people's feelings and behavior during this pandemia in the context of their attitude towards uncertainty (tolerance/ intolerance to uncertainty).

The dominant emotions experienced by the survey respondents during the pandemic are fear, irritation, anxiety, and sadness. The most pronounced are irritation and boredom. Tolerance to uncertainty turned out to be negatively associated with all negative emotions: fear, anger, irritation, anxiety, despair, and others. The research conclusion was that people with a lower level of tolerance for uncertainty, experience more negative emotions during this period. People with a higher tolerance for uncertainty, have less fear of getting COVID-19 and manifest fewer changes in normal human behavior in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, the scientists found age group differences in how people experience boredom and curiosity. The younger the respondent, the more pronounced these emotions are. Of particular interest were responses from people in the most vulnerable age group (over 65). Their primary emotion is anxiety and the intensity of its expression is maximized.

An analysis of gender differences shows a high intensity for almost all negative emotions (fear, anger, irritation, anxiety, despair, sadness) in women. For men, emotions such as boredom and excitement were somewhat more intense. In addition, men demonstrate a higher tolerance to uncertainty than women. Perhaps that is why they are characterized by less intense negative emotions.

Some survey respondents were coping with the burdens associated with a pandemic such as health challenges, supporting others, a sharp decline in financial well-being, and worsening living conditions. For many, the perception and interpretation of the situation was associated with a change in their mental state.

Researchers also examined the credibility aspect of COVID-19 information sources. The most trusted are scientific articles and the opinions of well-known experts in the field. The least trusted sources are the opinions of non-experts and state television channels. In general, women trust all sources of information (central television, official communications, scientific articles, and the opinions of well-known experts) more than men. The level of trust in all sources has a weak but significant negative relationship with a tolerance for uncertainty.

Pervushina added,

Our research is ongoing. We plan to analyze the factors that influence reactions and the choice of a behavioral strategy to cope with an unexpected situation. We will also look at the behavior of representatives of various social groups, and, if possible, cultures. Based on our research so far, we can argue that tolerance for uncertainty is an important resource that helps reduce negative experiences and inspire positive ones. This knowledge can help psychologists identify approaches and methods for helping people in complex, uncertain, conflicting, risky situations involving prolonged stress and an unpredictable outcome.