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The Effects of Messaging on Long COVID Expectations: An Online Experiment

Publication date: 

15 Sep 2022


Health Psychology, 41(11), 853–863


Mills, F, Bhogal, JK, Dennis, A, Spoiala, C, Milward, J, Saeed, S, Jones, L. F, Weston, D and Carter, H

Publication type: 



Abstract Objective: We examined whether varying information about long COVID would affect expectations about the illness. Method: In October 2021, we conducted a 2 (Illness Description: long COVID vs. ongoing COVID-19 recovery) × 2 (Symptom Uncertainty: uncertainty emphasized vs. not emphasized) × 2 (Efficacy of Support: enhanced vs. basic support) between-subjects randomized online experimental study. Participants (N = 1,110) were presented with a scenario describing a positive COVID-19 test result, followed by one of eight scenarios describing a long COVID diagnosis and then completed outcome measures of illness expectations including: symptom severity, symptom duration, quality of life, personal control, treatment control, and illness coherence. Results: We ran a series of 2 × 2 × 2 ANOVAs on the outcome variables. We found a main effect of illness description: individuals reported longer symptom duration and less illness coherence when the illness was described as long COVID (compared to ongoing COVID-19 recovery). There was a main effect of symptom uncertainty: when uncertainty was emphasized, participants reported longer expected symptom duration (p < .001), less treatment control (p = .031), and less illness coherence (p < .001) than when uncertainty was not emphasized. There was a main effect of efficacy of support: participants reported higher personal control (p = .004) and higher treatment control (p = .037) when support was enhanced (compared to basic support). Conclusions: Communications around long COVID should avoid emphasizing symptom uncertainty and aim to provide people with access to additional support and information on how they can facilitate their recovery.