The anxiety of not knowing: Diagnosis uncertainty about COVID-19

Livia Levine, Avi Kay, Ephraim Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The emergence and swift global spread of COVID-19 brought increased anxiety worldwide (Santabárbara et al. (Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, 109, 110207, 2021)). Research regarding the COVID-19 outbreak addressed factors that contribute to anxiety people experienced as they tried to handle the changes in their lives associated with COVID-19 (Holmes et al. (The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(6), 547–560, 2020)). This paper focuses on diagnosis uncertainty as a particular source of anxiety. We use self-reported anxiety measures to understand how different stressors, and particularly how being sick or being unsure if one or one’s close friends or relatives are sick, relate to overall anxiety levels. Five-hundred and thirty-three participants from a country with a stringent COVID-19 testing policy were surveyed in the spring of 2020 on various aspects of their anxiety and risk for depression, as well as on whether they or their friends or family had COVID-19. Analysis of survey results found that anxiety related to uncertainty regarding whether the survey responder or their friends or family were carrying COVID-19 may be even greater than fear of the virus itself. This paper discusses directional issues related to this finding and offers policy implications for decreasing anxiety during pandemics for certain types of communities. In addition to the main findings regarding diagnosis uncertainty and anxiety, this paper’s results also indicate the importance of providing participants with an option for “not sure” in closed questions and imply the increased knowledge that can be gained by analyzing an unsure response independently of “yes” or “no”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30678-30685
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Psychology
Issue number34
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Anxiety
  • COVID-19
  • Diagnosis
  • Testing
  • Uncertainty


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