The following is excerpted from an online article posted by MedicalXpress.
Decision-making capabilities of college students—including some graduating this spring—were likely negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, new research suggests.
Students in the small study conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University were less consistent in their decision-making during the 2020 fall semester compared to students who had participated in similar research over several previous years.
The researchers compared responses to a hypothetical situation made by students during the pandemic to responses made by students in earlier studies. They found evidence that students in 2020 were more likely to cycle between going with their gut and more thoroughly mulling over their answers depending on how the scenario was described.
“Our theory is that feeling stressed by everything going on was limiting students’ resources to really evaluate the information that was presented to them,” said lead author Melissa Buelow, professor of psychology at Ohio State’s Newark campus.
The research also suggests that the prolonged and wide-ranging uncertainties that came with the global lockdown—far different from an acute stressor imposed in a lab—affected the brain region responsible for problem-solving and decision-making.
Buelow conducted the study with Ohio State Newark psychology faculty members James Wirth and Jennifer Kowalsky. The research was published recently in the Journal of American College Health.
Buelow and her colleagues were inspired to do the study after they referred to their own foggy thinking as “pandemic brain” in casual conversation.
A clinical neuropsychologist, Buelow has used the Adult Decision Making Competence (ADMC) scale in her research for a decade. For this study, researchers compared data from a pre-pandemic sample of 722 undergraduates who had been assessed with the ADMC scale to data from 161 students who participated in one of two assessments during the 2020 fall semester.
The main finding: Instead of recognizing that ethics-based scenarios resulted in the same outcome, whether presented as a gain or loss, students in 2020 were more likely to answer differently based on how the information was framed.