Fear, anxiety, and construal level. Does anxiety broaden the scope of threat?
Fear is an emotion that has interested scholars and practitioners across different domains, such as psychology, economics, and politics. It has been widely studied in domains like decision making under risk and uncertainty (Wake et al., 2020), and underlies well-known phenomena like loss aversion (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979; Ruggeri et al., 2020). While antecedents and outcomes of fear have been extensively studied, the construct itself has not received much empirical investigation. This is surprising given that researchers have made important conceptual distinctions between fear and other related emotions like anxiety. In this paper, I draw on Construal Level Theory (CLT; Trope & Liberman, 2010) and the regulatory scope framework (Trope et al., 2021) to propose that fear and anxiety differ in their underlying level of construal and regulatory scope. Anxiety, unlike fear, constitutes a so-called “high-level construal” emotion because it broadens mental scope, directing attention towards more abstract and distant targets (Öhman, 2009; Trope & Liberman, 2010). The findings from this study may hold important implications for organizations, particularly those that frequently deal with crises. During the initial stages of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the virus was a distant and abstract threat to many countries. This distance may have reduced levels of fear that would otherwise have prompted earlier implementation of safety measures. Manipulating the construal level at which crisis scenarios are presented or processed can influence their effectiveness.