Interests, Motives, and Psychological Burdens in Times of Crisis and Lockdown : Google Trends Analysis to Inform Policy Makers

Background: In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the German government and the 16 German federal states implemented a variety of nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to decelerate the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and thus prevent a collapse of the health care system. These measures comprised, among others, social distancing, the temporary closure of shops and schools, and a ban of large public gatherings and meetings with people not living in the same household.

Objective: It is fair to assume that the issued NPIs have heavily affected social life and psychological functioning. We therefore aimed to examine possible effects of this lockdown in conjunction with daily new infections and the state of the national economy on people's interests, motives, and other psychological states.

Methods: We derived 249 keywords from the Google Trends database, tapping into 27 empirically and rationally selected psychological domains. To overcome issues with reliability and specificity of individual indicator variables, broad factors were derived by means of time series factor analysis. All domains were subjected to a change point analysis and time series regression analysis with infection rates, NPIs, and the state of the economy as predictors. All keywords and analyses were preregistered prior to analysis.

Results: With the pandemic arriving in Germany, significant increases in people's search interests were observed in virtually all domains. Although most of the changes were short-lasting, each had a distinguishable onset during the lockdown period. Regression analysis of the Google Trends data confirmed pronounced autoregressive effects for the investigated variables, while forecasting by means of the tested predictors (ie, daily new infections, NPIs, and the state of economy) was moderate at best.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that people's interests, motives, and psychological states are heavily affected in times of crisis and lockdown. Specifically, disease- and virus-related domains (eg, pandemic disease, symptoms) peaked early, whereas personal health strategies (eg, masks, homeschooling) peaked later during the lockdown. Domains addressing social life and psychosocial functioning showed long-term increases in public interest. Renovation was the only domain to show a decrease in search interest with the onset of the lockdown. As changes in search behavior are consistent over multiple domains, a Google Trends analysis may provide information for policy makers on how to adapt and develop intervention, information, and prevention strategies, especially when NPIs are in effect.


Citation style:
Could not load citation form.


Use and reproduction:
This work may be used under a
CC BY 4.0 LogoCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (CC BY 4.0)