MONMOUTH, ILLINOIS (December 23, 2020) The COVID-19 pandemic affected college students in numerous ways during the recently-completed fall semester. For three Monmouth College psychology seniors, it presented research opportunities.

Alison Bowman and Abigail Haslem, both of Galesburg, Illinois, and Abby Tucker of Metamora, Illinois, switched the research topics of their senior capstone project and connected them to the pandemic.

"I've been curious about how COVID has impacted everyone's lives," said Haslem while presenting her final project of the fall semester, titled "Perceptions of COVID-19 and Their Effects on Mental Well-Being and Social Support."

"Social-distancing has caused social isolation, which correlates with stress, anxiety, and depression," she said. "Quarantining can lead to depression and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). ... People have become more fearful of infection and death."

For her project, Haslem interviewed 138 participants, primarily college students. Thirteen percent of the people she surveyed reported that they have delayed their graduation.

"Academic performance has declined as stress leads to lower grades, neglecting responsibilities, and increased irritability," she said. "A lack of social support contributes to psychological distress, which can be just as harmful to an individual as smoking, obesity, or high-blood pressure. People gain emotional sustenance from their social groups, the people who are going through similar life experiences."

One of her hypotheses was that COVID caused a decrease in mental well-being. Her research supported that, with a significant difference found in the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale scores of her participants before and after COVID. That result also aligned with historical findings during the SARS and MERS outbreaks of 2002 and 2015, respectively.

Her other hypothesis that was supported was that higher social support led to better mental well-being.

Tucker studied the "Big Five" personality traits agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, extroversion, and neuroticism for her project, titled "Personality Types & COVID-19 Behavioral Tendencies." She worked with a test group of 224 participants.

Those falling into the category of neuroticism were much more likely to have behaviors such as washing hands and avoiding gatherings, bars, and restaurants.

"They showed a fear of the virus and a tendency toward protection of oneself," she said, while extroverts did not tend to avoid gatherings, due to being outgoing and seeking social interaction.

"Any additional knowledge about slowing the spread of COVID-19 is a step in the right direction," Tucker said of her project and those of her classmates. "Health officials can utilize this information."

Bowman studied the relationship between the personality types also examined by Tucker and alcohol use as a reaction to COVID-19, focusing on neuroticism and extroversion.

In her study of 120 participants, she found a correlation with the way neurotic personality types behaved.

"Those with a neurotic personality type drank significantly less before COVID," she said. "That was in alignment with my hypothesis. Extroverts drank consistently, so there was not as much of a correlation."

Like her fellow classmates, Bowman hopes her findings prove useful to the College community and beyond.

"Counselors and administrators should recognize the ways that students act when experiencing stress, especially during this pandemic," she said.

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