From fear to anger: the dominant feelings during the COVID-19 pandemic

An analysis of some 20,000 messages left on Twitter around the world documents a change in the state of mind of the general public.

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Pubblished: 10/29/2020

3 minutes


The coronavirus pandemic produced a global health emergency of an unprecedented scale – at least in the last century – forcing people from almost all over the world to spend long months locked up at home or working exposed to a possible contagion. And this inevitably led to repercussions on everyone’s mental state, arousing strong emotions and feelings, two above all: fear (at the beginning of the spread of the virus) and anger (over the following weeks). To document this switch, a study was conducted by a group of researchers from the Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore, who analyzed – as communication experts increasingly more often do – what Twitter users posted on this platform all over the world.

Social media are indeed a preferential laboratory to test people’s state of mind on global issues – which COVID-19 is definitely part of.
The authors collected about 20 million tweets written in English during the emergency, analyzing the most common words and expressions thereof, and concluded that the messages of the first weeks – when the dominant characteristic of the situation was uncertainty – were marked by fear. Over time, however, the most common sentiment quickly became anger, often tinged with xenophobia, towards the peoples who had allegedly spread the infection.

However, there was no lack of other feelings, which emerged from the situation of isolation and social exclusion. During the period assessed, for example, the tweets marked by sadness doubled, although they remained quite limited compared to others who expressed positive feelings, such as a sense of pride in the resilience shown in the difficult situation, gratitude towards healthcare professionals, hope and even happiness.

According to the authors, such demonstration of “volubility” on the part of the public could be of great help to the political or health authorities to implement adequate communication strategies, with the aim of limiting the spread of distrust in the ability to manage the problem.