Motivated helplessness in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence for a curvilinear relationship between perceived ability to avoid the virus and anxiety

Uri Lifshin, Mario Mikulincer, Mabelle Kretchner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations

Abstract

Introduction: We tested the hypothesis that feelings of helplessness — i.e., the perception that one is unable to control and prevent negative events — may serve a protective psychological function against fear and anxiety arousal in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: We conducted a large scale study with participants from different countries (N = 3,632) to examine if perceived helplessness to avoid being infected with COVID-19 relates to lower levels of fear of CO-VID-19, and state anxiety. Results: We found a curvilinear relationship between feeling helpless to avoid being infected with COVID-19 and self-reported anxiety. Individuals who reported either low or high degrees of helplessness reported less anxiety and fear of being infected with COVID-19 compared to those who reported moderate levels of helplessness. Additional analyses within countries with adequate power (N > 160) indicated that this curvilinear effect was found among participants from the USA, UK, Poland, Estonia, and the Netherlands, but not in Argentina and Germany. Discussion: We discuss the implications for research on the psychological function of helplessness and for understanding peoples’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-497
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Social and Clinical Psychology
Volume39
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Guilford Publications. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Anxiety
  • COVID-19
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Motivation
  • Threat

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