On January 28, 2021, Michael G. Wheaton, assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College, along with co-authors Gabriella R. Messner ‘20 and Jenna B. Marks ‘20, published a new paper in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. The article, titled “Intolerance of uncertainty as a factor linking obsessive-compulsive symptoms, health anxiety and concerns about the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States,” explores whether intolerance of uncertainty (IU), a psychological vulnerability factor involved in both obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and health anxiety, partially accounted for the relationship between symptoms of health anxiety and OCD and fear of COVID-19 during the early stages of the outbreak in the United States. Previous research has linked excessive anxiety about illness during pandemics with symptoms of health anxiety and OCD.
The study, which measured survey respondents' concern about the spread of COVID-19, health anxiety, and OCD, found that COVID-19 concern was moderately and positively correlated with OCD and health anxiety symptoms, as well as IU. This suggests that the degree to which individuals are comfortable with uncertainty is a potential mechanism connecting OCD and health anxiety to anxiety about pandemic threats.