Background: Despite the immense impact of COVID-19 on mental health, there is a lack of prospective studies examining physiological predictors of current risk factors. Moreover, although physiological processes evidently interact with socio-demographic factors to modulate individuals’ response to a crisis, it remains largely unknown how these complex interactions shape people’s mental responses to COVID-19. To fill these gaps of knowledge, we chose a potent physiological marker of distress–heightened baseline electrodermal activity (EDA) measured before the pandemic began - and hypothesized it would be related to greater COVID-related fears and worries as a function of individuals’ household size. Method: 185 individuals (71% women), who had participated in our lab studies 2-3 years ago, in which we assessed their baseline EDA, completed several questionnaires online, including assessments of their current fears regarding COVID. Participants also reported the number of people in their household, with whom they had been together during a lockdown which was taking place at the time. We used pre-pandemic EDA measures in combination with their household size to predict participants’ current fears. Results: Pre-pandemic EDA measures predicted current COVID-related fears and worries. Specifically for the EDA measure “number of skin conductance responses”, we further found that the number of people in the household during the lockdown, moderated the abovementioned relationship, such that it occurred in individuals with average and larger households and not in those with small households. Conclusions: We provide a highly relevant and unique combination of physiological, socio-demographic, and psychological measures, which augments the potential to optimally target populations vulnerable to COVID-related distress, and subsequently offer them early mental health interventions.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
- COVID-19 fears
- Electrodermal activity
- biopsychosocial perspective
- household size
- physiological arousal
- sympathetic nervous system