Associations of risk perception of COVID-19 with emotion and mental health during the pandemic

Qing HAN*, Bang ZHENG, Maximilian AGOSTINI, Jocelyn J. BÉLANGER, Ben GÜTZKOW, Jannis KREIENKAMP, Anne Margit REITSEMA, Jolien Anne VAN BREEN, PsyCorona Study, Wai Lan Victoria YEUNG, N. Pontus LEANDER

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)


Although there are increasing concerns on mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, no large-scale population-based studies have examined the associations of risk perception of COVID-19 with emotion and subsequent mental health.

This study analysed cross-sectional and longitudinal data from the PsyCorona Survey that included 54,845 participants from 112 countries, of which 23,278 participants are representative samples of 24 countries in terms of gender and age. Specification curve analysis (SCA) was used to examine associations of risk perception of COVID-19 with emotion and self-rated mental health. This robust method considers all reasonable model specifications to avoid subjective analytical decisions while accounting for multiple testing.

All 162 multilevel linear regressions in the SCA indicated that higher risk perception of COVID-19 was significantly associated with less positive or more negative emotions (median standardised β=-0.171, median SE=0.004, P<0.001). Specifically, regressions involving economic risk perception and negative emotions revealed stronger associations. Moreover, risk perception at baseline survey was inversely associated with subsequent mental health (standardised β=-0.214, SE=0.029, P<0.001). We further used SCA to explore whether this inverse association was mediated by emotional distress. Among the 54 multilevel linear regressions of mental health on risk perception and emotion, 42 models showed a strong mediation effect, where no significant direct effect of risk perception was found after controlling for emotion (P>0.05).

Reliance on self-reported data.

Risk perception of COVID-19 was associated with emotion and ultimately mental health. Interventions on reducing excessive risk perception and managing emotional distress could promote mental health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-255
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date26 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the University of Groningen (Sustainable Society & Ubbo Emmius Fund); the New York University Abu Dhabi (VCDSF/75-71015); and the Government of Spain (COV20/00086). The funders had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the article for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.


  • COVID-19
  • Risk perception
  • Emotion
  • Mental Health
  • Mental health


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