Being worried about COVID-19 impairs a person’s cognitive abilities
01/06/2022 // Arsenio Toledo // Views

New research has found that constantly worrying about the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can impair a person's cognitive abilities.

This study was conducted by researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. They worked with other researchers from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital to survey over 1,500 Americans between April and June 2020 to gauge how concerned they were about the coronavirus pandemic and how this fear may have affected their thinking.

The study participants were asked to rate how worried they are about COVID-19 and were then asked to complete a series of cognitive and psychological examinations. These tests measured how well each person processed information and their attitudes to taking risks.

For the information processing exam, participants were asked to match pairs of symbols and digits according to a fixed rule. For the risk attitude test, participants were given an economic decision task where they made a series of hypothetical choices between "certain" options that would net them a small amount of money and "risky" options that gave them a chance to win a larger amount of money, but with the small chance of winning no money.

According to the results of the tests, how much a person is worried about COVID-19 and the pandemic predicted their tendency to distort described risk levels. They "underweighted likely probabilities and overweighted unlikely probabilities," wrote the researchers.

The study authors also suggested that the more anxious respondents are, the more sensitive they may be to risks. This may result in them seeking out more information before making choices.


"Individuals reporting greater pandemic-related worry appeared more sensitive to described risk level," wrote the authors. "As with the analysis of cognitive task performance, this relationship between sensitivity to outcome probabilities and individual worry remained after controlling for demographic variables, and perceived risk of contracting COVID-19."

This suggested that worries related to COVID-19 can negatively affect a person's ability to make decisions and fundamentally change how they make decisions that involve certain risks.

Lockdowns have a disastrous effect on mental health

"The basic cognitive abilities measured here are crucial for healthy daily living and decision-making," said Kevin da Silva Castanheira, a graduate student in McGill's Department of Psychology and the study's primary author. "The impairments associated with worry observed here suggest that, under periods of high stress like a global pandemic, our ability to think, plan and evaluate risks is altered. Understanding these changes are critical as managing stressful situations often relies on these abilities."

Dr. Madeleine Sharp, one of the study's other authors and a neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute, said: "The impact of stress and worry on cognitive function are well known, but are typically studied in the laboratory setting. Here, we're able to extend these findings by studying the effects of a real-world stressor in a large sample. An important future direction will be to examine why some people are more sensitive than others to stress and to identify coping strategies that help to protect from the effects of stress."

The McGill study is consistent with the findings by other researchers. In Israel, researchers from a group of Israeli universities found that children experienced more stress as a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as lockdowns. This caused them to develop unhealthy social and dietary habits and made them more prone to higher rates of violence. (Related: COVID-19 lockdowns causing deterioration of children's mental health.)

Listen to this episode of the "Health Ranger Report," a podcast by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, as he talks about how people can beat stress and other mental health struggles with healthy food.

This is from the Health Ranger Report channel on

Learn more about the mental health impacts of restrictive measures like lockdowns at

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