A new study, published in Psychiatry Research, examined potential factors influencing emotional well-being during a virus outbreak. Researchers found that perceived knowledge about COVID-19 was related to higher emotional well-being, over and above actual knowledge about the virus. They further discovered that sense of control might be the reason why.
Previous research has uncovered the detrimental effects of virus outbreaks on public mental health. However, surprisingly few studies have looked at the effects of outbreaks on emotional well-being. Study authors, Haiyang Yang and Jingjing Ma, wanted to explore potential factors that might alleviate or exacerbate emotional well-being.
To do this, researchers compared data from two nationwide surveys in China, one of which was conducted before the pandemic and the other, during the pandemic. The first survey took place in December 2019 and involved 11,131 people averaging at around 38 years of age. The second survey was conducted in mid-February 2020 and included 3,000 respondents averaging at around 35 years of age. Both surveys had participants complete an assessment of emotional well-being as well as various demographic measures.
Participants in the second survey were additionally asked to indicate their level of knowledge about the coronavirus, with respect to how the virus is spread and how infection can be reduced. They were also asked to indicate the extent to which they felt a sense of control over the circumstances of the outbreak. Finally, subjects completed a measure that evaluated their actual knowledge of the virus, including “effective handwashing, disinfectant usage, mask usage, avoidance of mouth/eye/nose-touching, and prevention of droplet spread.”
When researchers compared results from the two studies, a 74% drop in emotional well-being during the pandemic was revealed. Certain factors increased the likelihood of experiencing this decline in emotional health: living in Hubei (the province where the virus outbreak began), being of an older age, and being married. Concerning married couples, the authors suggest that a virus outbreak has the potential to worsen relationship conflict, leading to a decline in well-being.
Data from the second study revealed a possible protective factor for emotional well-being. It was found that perceived knowledge about the virus consistently predicted emotional well-being, but actual knowledge did not. “Regardless of their actual level of knowledge,” the authors say, “those perceiving themselves as more knowledgeable, can better shield their emotional well-being from declining during an outbreak.”
Researchers tested whether sense of control could be responsible for this effect. Mediation analysis found that “perceived knowledge had a significant positive effect on sense of control and that sense of control had a significant positive effect on emotional well-being.” Even more, once the effect of sense of control was taken into consideration, the effect of perceived knowledge on emotional well-being was no longer significant.
The authors explain, “Participants’ perceived knowledge about coronavirus infection was associated with a higher sense of control, which in turn protected their emotional well-being during the outbreak.”
“Approaches that boost sense of control,” they add, “can attenuate the detrimental effect of an outbreak on happiness.”
The researchers conclude that these findings provide guidance for policymakers and mental health workers hoping to reduce psychological suffering during the pandemic.
The study, “How an Epidemic Outbreak Impacts Happiness: Factors that Worsen (vs. Protect) Emotional Well-being during the Coronavirus Pandemic”, was authored by Haiyang Yang, and Jingjing Ma.