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The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted everyday life virtually everywhere in the world, enabling real-life research on threat-and-defense processes. In a survey conducted within the first days of implementing social distancing measures in Austria and Germany, we aimed to explore the pathways from threat perception to preferences of defense strategies. We found that anxiety, approach-related affect, and reactance were specifically elicited by motivational (vs. epistemic) discrepancies. In a second step, we tested the mediating effect of anxiety, approach-related affect, and reactance on preferences regarding personal-social and concrete-abstract defenses. Experiencing anxiety was related to interest in security-related actions, and approach-affect was related to both personal projects and social media use. Participants experiencing reactance were more inclined to pursue personal projects (personal-abstract) and less interested in security-related (personal-concrete) actions. They also showed marginally lower system justification (social-abstract). Additionally, we examined the relationship of loneliness with defense strategies, showing that loneliness was associated with lower system justification and security behaviors. The results suggest that individuals deal with threat in their own ways, mostly depending on affective state and motivational orientation: Anxiety was related to security, approach-state to action (both social and personal), reactance to derogation of the system and disregard for security, while loneliness was associated with inaction.


Reiss, Stefan;  Franchina, Vittoria;  Jutzi, Chiara;  Willardt, Robin;  Jonas, Eva

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