Impact of active and latent concerns about COVID-19 on attention

Caitlin A. Sisk, Yi Ni Toh, Jihyang Jun, Roger W. Remington, Vanessa G. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The interactions between emotion and attention are complex due to the multifaceted nature of attention. Adding to this complexity, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the emotional landscape, broadly heightening health and financial concerns. Can the heightened concerns about COVID-19 impair one or more of the components of attention? To explore the connection between heightened concerns about COVID-19 and attention, in a preregistered study, we collected survey responses from 234 participants assessing levels of concerns surrounding COVID-19, followed by four psychophysics tasks hypothesized to tap into different aspects of attention: visual search, working memory, sustained attention, and cognitive control. We also measured task-unrelated thoughts. Results showed that task-unrelated thoughts, but not survey reports of concern levels, negatively correlated with sustained attention and cognitive control, while visual search and working memory remained robust to task-unrelated thoughts and survey-indicated concern levels. As a whole, these findings suggest that being concerned about COVID-19 does not interfere with cognitive function unless the concerns are active in the form of task-unrelated thoughts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number48
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported in part by the Engdahl Family Research Fund. CAS was supported by a graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 00074041) and the American Psychological Association Dissertation Research Fellowship. Funding from all three sources was used for participant payment and fees associated with use of the online data collection software.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • COVID-19
  • Emotion
  • Mental health
  • Selective attention
  • Sustained attention

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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