The COVID‐19 pandemic has powerfully shaped people’s lives. The current work investigated the emotional and behavioral reactions people experience in response to COVID‐19 through their internet searches. We hypothesised that when the prevalence rates of COVID‐19 increase, people would experience more fear, which in turn would predict more searches for protective behaviors, health‐related knowledge, and panic buying.
Prevalence rates of COVID‐19 in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia were used as predictors. Fear‐related emotions, protective behaviors, seeking health‐related knowledge, and panic buying were measured using internet search volumes in Google Trends.
We found that increased prevalence rates of COVID‐19 were associated with more searches for protective behaviors, health knowledge, and panic buying. This pattern was consistent across four countries, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Fear‐related emotions explained the associations between COVID‐19 and the content of their internet searches.
Findings suggest that exposure to COVID‐19 prevalence and fear‐related emotions may motivate people to search for relevant health‐related information so as to protect themselves from the pandemic.