The current research chronicles the unfolding of the early psychological impacts of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by analyzing Reddit language from 18 U.S. cities (200,000+ people) and large-scale survey data (11,000+ people). Large psychological shifts were found reflecting three distinct phases. When COVID-19 warnings first emerged (“warning phase”), people’s attentional focus switched to the impending threat. Anxiety levels surged, and positive emotion and anger dropped. In parallel, people’s thinking became more intuitive rather than analytic. When lockdowns began (“isolation phase”), analytic thinking dropped further. People became sadder, and their thinking reflected attempts to process the uncertainty. Familial ties strengthened, but ties to broader social groups weakened. Six weeks after COVID-19’s onset (“normalization phase”), people’s psychological states stabilized but remained elevated. Most psychological shifts were stronger when the threat of COVID-19 was greater. The magnitude of the observed shifts dwarfed responses to other events that occurred in the previous decade.
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