Longitudinal relationships among fear of COVID-19, smartphone online self-disclosure, happiness, and psychological well-being: Survey study

Jörg Matthes, Kevin Koban, Ariadne Neureiter, Anja Stevic

Background: Given that governmental prevention measures restricted most face-to-face communications, online self-disclosure via smartphones emerged as an alternative coping strategy that aimed at reducing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people's psychological health. Prepandemic research demonstrated that online self-disclosure benefits people's psychological health by establishing meaningful relationships, obtaining social support, and achieving self-acceptance, particularly in times of crisis. However, it is unclear whether these dynamics transition well to lockdown conditions where online self-disclosure must stand almost entirely on its own. Longitudinal investigations are needed to gain insights into the psychological functionalities of online self-disclosure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Objective: This study aimed to determine the temporal associations between smartphone online self-disclosure (as a communicative behavior) and critical indicators of psychological health (including psychopathological, as well as hedonic and eudaimonic states) during the first COVID-19 lockdown in Austria.

Methods: We conducted a representative 2-wave panel survey between late March/April 2020 and May 2020. A total of 416 participants completed both waves (43.1% attrition rate, given n=731 participants who completed the first wave). A partially metric measurement invariant overtime structural equation model was used to determine the temporal associations among online self-disclosure, fear of COVID-19, happiness, and psychological well-being.

Results: The analysis revealed that fear of COVID-19 significantly predicted online self-disclosure over time (b=0.24, P=.003) and happiness over time (b=-0.14, P=.04), but not psychological well-being (b=0.03, P=.48), that is, stronger COVID-19 fears at T1 prompted more online self-disclosure and less happiness at T2. Online self-disclosure, on the other hand, significantly predicted happiness (b=0.09, P=.02), but neither fear of COVID-19 (b=-0.01, P=.57) nor psychological well-being (b=-0.01, P=.57) over time. Participants who engaged more strongly in online self-disclosure at T1 felt happier at T2, but they did not differ from less-disclosing participants concerning COVID-19 fears and psychological well-being at T2. Importantly, happiness and psychological well-being were significantly related over time (happiness T1. psychological well-being T2: b=0.11, P

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that online self-disclosure might play a pivotal role in coping with pandemic stressors. With restrictions on their options, individuals increasingly turn to their smartphones and social media to disclose their feelings, problems, and concerns during lockdown. While online self-disclosure might not alleviate fears or improve psychological well-being, our results demonstrate that it made people experience more happiness during this crisis. This psychological resource may help them withstand the severe psychological consequences of the COVID-19 crisis over longer timeframes.

Department of Communication
Journal of Medical Internet Research
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
508007 Communication science
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Health Informatics
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