Newcastle University aims to explore the links between uncertainty and anxiety in the context of Covid-19

Newcastle University aims to explore the links between uncertainty and anxiety in the context of Covid-19

Study aims to explore the links between uncertainty and anxiety

Extraordinary. Unprecedented. Uncertain. Words that are taking on new and greater significance as each successive day of the Coronavirus pandemic unfolds.

Ministers and health officials, delivering the daily government briefings, think social distancing measures may be helping to limit the spread of the virus, but they’re uncertain. There are stark warnings, too, that it is uncertain whether the NHS, facing the peak of the virus over the next week or so, will be able to cope. It’s uncertain for just how long the nation’s lockdown will need to be in force. The financial markets are uncertain, businesses are uncertain about their future.

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For individuals, it is difficult to face so many uncertainties, such as their own health, and that of loved ones, and the short- and long-term impact of the crisis. In these extraordinary, unprecedented times there are so many ‘unknowns’ that might influence the spread of uncertainty-related distress through society in a way that has never happened before.

This global climate of uncertainty has led Newcastle University Professor Mark Freeston, an expert in Generalized Anxiety Disorder, to bring together an international team of researchers to study the relationship between uncertainty and distress in the context of Covid-19.

The Uncertainty in Coronavirus Research Network (UNiCORN) includes Drs Lauren Mawn and Ashley Tiplady, Clinical Psychologists with Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; Dr GioiaBotessi a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Padova in Italy; Dr Sarah Thwaites, from Newcastle University’s School of Psychology; Dr Jinrui Pan, a behavioural economist from Durham University; Drs Pablo Romero Sanchiz and Raquel Nogueira from Dalhousie University in Canada and the University of Malaga in Spain; and Dr Gregoris Simos at the University of Macedonia, Greece.  The study is currently available in three languages – English, Spanish and Italian.

‘It is well known that, within worry and anxiety, people’s ability to tolerate uncertainty is often an important factor’, says Professor Freeston. ‘We know that worry and anxiety lie on a continuum; people who report low or average levels of anxiety can experience similar thoughts and behaviours to those who are more severely affected’.

‘Covid-19 offers a unique context within which we can attempt to learn more about the relationship between uncertainty, anxiety and how people respond when they are feeling uncertain’, he said. Professor Freeston adds: ‘The data collected will also allow us to map location and track people’s data against publically available statistics about coronavirus and the local situation. In turn, that enables us to consider dynamic geographical tracking over time.

‘This is important because it allows us to consider influences on distress or uncertainty as information becomes more or less clear across the world’.

To support the study, the team have designed a questionnaire that is available to any adult over proficient in English, Italian and Spanish. The team are using ‘snowballing’ asking people to share the study with as many people as possible to get the survey to as many people as possible around the world, whose challenges and uncertainties may differ.

They are looking for people, both locally and from around the world, to take part in the study. It is open to anyone aged 18 years and over. Responses will be anonymised, and participation is entirely voluntary. Participants are being encouraged to forward the survey to family and friends elsewhere in the world to help the team gain a wide geographical sample.

‘Importantly, this innovative and timely research will inform how best to help people to cope with and tolerate situations of uncertainty, something which not only has implications in mental health but also in considering how we should respond to events like the pandemic’, says Dr Mawn.

‘Our aim is to find out more about whether people’s ability to tolerate uncertainty is related to the experiences they have and their behaviour, so we are interested in everybody’s responses’, she added.

The study has gained already significant interest from the UK research community, where last week (6 April) UNiCORN’s project updates were the most widely read updates on scientific and research social networking site, ResearchGate.

The team hope to publish their findings from the study in August 2020. One can also participate in the study using the links – An invitation to take part in a psychological study into uncertainty and distress in Coronavirus

About Newcastle University:

Newcastle University, UK, is a thriving international community of some 27,750 students from over 130 countries worldwide.  As a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities in the UK, Newcastle has a world-class reputation for research excellence in the fields of medicine, science and engineering, social sciences and the humanities. Newcastle University is honored with a Gold Award – in the Teaching Excellence Framework and is known for research-led teaching delivered by dedicated and passionate teachers (TEF).

Newcastle University is also ranked:

  • 1st in the UK for Computing Science research impact, 3rd in the UK for Civil Engineering research power and 11th in the UK for Mathematical Sciences research.
  • 3rd in the UK for English, and in the top 12 for Geography, Architecture and Planning, and Cultural and Media Studies research quality
  • 4th amongst UK medical schools for Clinical Medicine research intensity

Newcastle University is also among the top 20 universities in the country with the employment rate of 94%.

For more information, please visit Newcastle University, UK website:

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