Evidence of the pandemic’s impact is visible all around campus. We wear masks inside and out, classes are sparsely populated or finding non-traditional meeting arrangements, and at every turn we’re greeted with signs that remind us to stay six feet apart and jugs of hand sanitizer. All of these practices are mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and allowing campus to remain open, which is certainly important. But, how are these actions affecting us on an individual level? How are we coping with the byproduct of increased isolation that the pandemic has wrought?
Psychological Science Trains Students to Ask Valuable Questions
The Department of Psychological Science asks questions about the pandemic’s impact on the individual and prepares students to find research-driven answers. Associate Professor Dr. Anjolii Diaz notes the unique lens psychologists use:
I believe Psychology examines COVID in significantly different ways than other sciences. Psychological scientists are not only asking questions about attitudes towards or compliance with COVID ordinances but also COVID’s role in important life domains like overall wellbeing, mental and physical health, emotional and cognitive processes and more.
Fellow faculty member, Dr. Katie Lawson, explains how the various specialities within Psychological Sciences examine the pandemic from different angles. She says, “Clinical psychologists, for example, may be asking questions about the mental health of individuals in a pandemic and how to best to provide service to individuals in need (especially during a time of social distancing). One of my colleagues studies persuasion, which has included research examining the most effective ways to persuade people to wear masks – something that research finds can significantly reduce COVID transmission.” Ball State colleague, Kelly M. Fischer, adds:
We are also looking at things like psychological impact in healthcare workers (clinical psychology), neurological and biological aspects of the virus (neuroscience), ways in which we can motivate people to act or to follow appropriate safety protocol (social psychology), the unique impact of COVID-19 on certain populations (diversity issues), increase in discrimination within certain populations (psychology of prejudice and discrimination), and the impact COVID-19 has had very specifically on the mental health of college-aged students.
In all its myriad avenues, psychology trains scholars to focus on the individual experience within the context of the event itself.
Pandemic Impact on Psychological Practice
One of the most pressing aspects of the pandemic for college students has been the rise in mental health needs on college campuses. According to Inside Higher Ed, “Several recent surveys of students suggest their mental well-being has been devastated by the pandemic’s social and economic consequences, as well as the continued uncertainty about their college education and postcollege careers.”
Practicing mental health counselor and Ball State Senior Lecturer, Kelly M. Fischer, is using her field expertise to offer practical insights into this mental health crisis through a seminar course in the Psychology Department this year entitled “COVID-19 & the Psych Perspective.” She says:
I can say that COVID-19 has shifted my work because not only am I helping individuals with psychological issues or mental disorders, but I am seeing a common overlay of stress, anxiety, and/or depression as a result of the pandemic, and am also seeing an increase in demand for mental health assistance specifically with the chief complaint of struggling to cope with the pandemic.
Her course is connecting the dots between the pandemic and mental health, and preparing Ball State students for work in the field. She notes, “We cover aspects like how this impacts anxiety about coming into contact with someone who is ill, or guilt over the possibility of unknowingly infecting someone you care about. We also examine the research regarding the psychological stress to healthcare workers including causes, risk factors, symptoms, and interventions.” She encourages her students to apply their other coursework in psychology to the clinical treatment of mental health.
Pandemic Impact on Research
Associate Professor Katie Lawson’s research focuses on the impact of the pandemic on the work-home dynamic, particularly how people balance the demands of work and family. She notes, “This pandemic has completely uprooted the lives of parents and children. Many parents are struggling to maintain full-time employment while no longer having access to childcare, or having to help their kids learn virtually at home.” Many psychologists are examining the impact this has on children and parents’ achievement, and social and physical well-being.
Dr. Lawson notes that she is particularly interested in the impact of the pandemic on gender. She explains, “In my current research, we are prepping our survey to examine work-life conflict among women academics in computer science. We are making sure to address how paid employment, childcare, and household responsibilities have shifted over the pandemic so that we can see the implications of this shift on women’s occupational outcomes (e.g., job burnout) and health.”
Dr. Diaz expresses how the pandemic has altered her research methods. She explains:
As scientists we have to be mindful that the dimension of time as it relates to an individual’s environment, being in the midst of a pandemic, may reduce the generalizability of data collection. This something I have had to struggle with myself especially when making the decision to halt my typical research as well as when I am developing appropriate research questions that can be asked during this unique time.
She has had to adapt her research to rely primarily on survey data, rather than her typical methods of observation, experimental tests, and EEGs (electroencephalograms). Dr. Diaz is surely not alone in this shift; academics, like so many other professionals have been greatly impacted by the pandemic.
How Does Studying Psychology Equip Students to Evaluate their world?
Dr. Katie Lawson:
One thing that become apparent during the pandemic is that many individuals do not understand the scientific research process or how to critically analyze media information about the pandemic. The Psychological Science major stresses students understanding of research, in addition to a critical analysis of it, throughout our classes. Students are first introduced to the scientific research process in our Introductory course, and complete the major by completing their own research project in our capstone course. In my Psychology of Women class, for example, we use our base knowledge about research methods to critically analyze newspaper articles about gender.
Kelly M. Fischer:
Psychology helps prepare the students to break down huge, real-world events that impact each one of them at a very personal level. In doing so, they can examine this larger issue from a variety of perspectives, with each one offering new information, new insights, new solutions, and perhaps guides towards ways in which we can better address large scale issues in the future.
Dr. Anjolii Diaz:
COVID has had a great impact on all research. As [psychological] scientists we have to be mindful that the dimension of time as it relates to an individual’s environment, being in the midst of a pandemic, may reduce the generalizability of data collection. [We] have to adapt research questions and methods in order to continue to be productive. For instance, researchers are now asking, does quarantining and social isolation play a role in individual mental health (i.e. depression, anxiety) and social competence? Or does personality play a role in the attitudes towards COVID severity and compliance to mask wearing?