Psychological Predictors of Anxiety in Response to the H1N1 (Swine Flu) Pandemic

Abstract

Pandemic illnesses, such as the H1N1 influenza (swine flu) are often highly publicized in the mass media and can be associated with high levels of anxiety and compensatory behavior (e.g., using hand sanitizers). The present research sought to investigate the psychological processes associated with swine-flu related anxiety during the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009–2010. Participants were 315 college students who completed survey measures between September 25th 2009 and February 16th 2010, which encompassed the peak of flu season and a time of intense media attention to this particular outbreak. Data revealed that anxiety in response to the swine flu was common in the sample. Regression analysis indicated that health anxiety, contamination fears and disgust sensitivity were significant predictors of swine flu-related anxiety. Implications for how concerns over pandemic illnesses such as the swine flu can be conceptualized and clinically managed are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In order to test the dimensionality of the SFI we submitted the nine retained items to a principal axis factor analysis with oblique (promax) rotation to allow the factors to be correlated. The first three eigenvalues from this analysis were 4.16, 1.44 and 0.77 and examination of the scree plot suggested retaining a two-factor solution. In the promax-rotated solution, five items (# 1, 7–10) saliently loaded on the first factor, three items (#3–5) saliently loaded on the second factor and one item (#2) loaded on both factors. The factors were correlated (r = .55). Importantly, the statements in three items saliently loading on the second factor all began with the question “how” while all of the other items began differently, indicating that question wording may have influenced the separation of these items from the others (e.g., a method factor). Recommendations for factor analysis have suggested that factors defined by three or fewer items may be less reliable and replicable, and four or more items are generally recommended to retain a factor (Guadagnoli and Velicer 1988). As such we opted to consider the SFI as a unidimensional measure and used the total score in all analyses.

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Correspondence to Jonathan S. Abramowitz.

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Wheaton, M.G., Abramowitz, J.S., Berman, N.C. et al. Psychological Predictors of Anxiety in Response to the H1N1 (Swine Flu) Pandemic. Cogn Ther Res 36, 210–218 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-011-9353-3

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Keywords

  • Swine Flu
  • Health anxiety
  • Contamination fear
  • Disgust sensitivity