Using Ecological Momentary Assessment to Study the Development of COVID-19 Worries in Sweden: Longitudinal Study
Background: The foray of COVID-19 around the globe has certainly instigated worries in many people, and lockdown measures may well have triggered more specific worries. Sweden, more than other countries, relied on voluntary measures to fight the pandemic. This provides a particularly interesting context to assess people’s reactions to the threat of the pandemic. Objective: The general aim of this study was to better understand the worried reactions to the virus and the associated lockdown measures. As there have been very few longitudinal studies in this area published to date, development of feelings of worry over time was analyzed over a longer range than in previous research. Affective variables, worry in particular, were included because most of the research in this field has focused on cognitive variables. To employ new methodology, ecological momentary assessment was used for data collection and a multilevel modeling approach was adopted for data analysis. Methods: Results were based on an unbalanced panel sample of 260 Swedish participants filling in 3226 interview questionnaires by smartphone over a 7-week period in 2020 during the rapid rise of cases in the early phase of the pandemic. Causal factors considered in this study included the perceived severity of an infection, susceptibility of a person to the threat posed by the virus, perceived efficacy of safeguarding measures, and assessment of government action against the spread of COVID-19. The effect of these factors on worries was traced in two analytical steps: the effects at the beginning of the study and the effect on the trend during the study. Results: The level of general worry related to COVID-19 was modest (mean 6.67, SD 2.54 on an 11-point Likert scale); the increase during the study period was small, but the interindividual variation of both the worry level and its increase over time was large. Findings confirmed that the hypothesized causal factors (severity of infection, susceptibility to the threat of the virus, efficacy of safeguarding, and assessment of government preventive action) did indeed affect the level of worry. Conclusions: The results confirmed earlier research in a very special case and demonstrated the usefulness of a different study design, which takes a longitudinal perspective, and a new type of data analysis borrowed from multilevel study design.
Journal of medical Internet research