Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research


Studies regarding the socioemotional selectivity theory have found that upcoming endings lead to a positivity bias in individuals’ executive functioning. The current study seeks to expand upon this theory by studying the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on college students and graduates. It was predicted that (a) current students would demonstrate more negative emotionality than pre-COVID students, (b) current students would demonstrate a greater positivity bias than pre-COVID students, and (c) this bias would be more pronounced in current seniors and weaker in current freshmen and college graduates. Participants responded to several scales regarding personality (neuroticism, shyness) and emotional factors (depression, anxiety, optimism/pessimism, loneliness, general affect) and completed working-memory tasks for happy, neutral, and sad human faces. Results revealed that current students performed significantly worse on all conditions of the working memory task; additionally, current students scored significantly lower on optimism and higher on shyness, anxiety, depression, general affect, and neuroticism. Among current students, only loneliness differed significantly, with first-year students being the most lonely. Although findings were inconsistent with the socioemotional selectivity theory, they suggest that overall emotionality can have detrimental effects on executive functioning. Findings that first-year students are significantly more lonely than pre-COVID students and other current students suggests that social-distancing practices are having a particularly negative effect on connectedness for these students.