Well-being in the time of COVID-19: Metaphors matter


Communications about the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) often employ metaphors, which can help people understand complex issues. For example, public health messages may focus on “fighting” the disease, attempting to rouse people to action by instilling a sense of urgency. In contrast, change-focused metaphors may foster growth mindsets and self-efficacy—cornerstones of well-being and action. We randomly assigned participants to read one of two articles—either an article about coronavirus that focused on fighting the war or an article that highlighted the possibility of change. In Study 1 (N=426), participants who read the war, relative to the change, message reported lower growth mindsets and self-efficacy and these in turn, predicted lower well-being and weaker intentions to engage in health behaviors. In Study 2, (N=702), we sought to replicate findings and included a no treatment control. We failed to replicate the effects of message condition, although both messages predicted greater self-efficacy compared to the control. Similar to Study 1, growth mindsets predicted intentions to engage in recommended health behaviors and self-efficacy predicted both well-being and action. We discuss theoretical reasons for discrepancies as well as practical applications for developing public health communications.

International Journal of Psychology