Mood, Cognition, And Written Discourse During the Covid-19 Pandemic
Lori J. P. Altmann, Phd
There has been an increased prevalence in mood disorders among college students in the past ten years, and it has reportedly worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study examined the relationship between mood, cognition, and college students’ written discourse production. Participants included thirty-nine students from the University of Florida between the ages of 18 and 35. Data was collected online via Zoom. Participants completed a mood questionnaire, a battery of cognitive tasks, and two five-minute writing tasks typed into the Zoom chat function. Participants responded to two prompts: one describing a memorable vacation and one describing the impact of the pandemic on their lives. The results included that participants with higher verbal and switching ability wrote longer samples. Participants with higher verbal ability also produced samples with higher proposition density. The two different prompts also influenced results, as pandemic samples yielded a greater proposition density overall relative to the vacation samples. The difference in sample also affected content; vacation samples contained a greater use of “we” relative to “I” and fewer negative emotion words compared to pandemic samples. Regarding the effect of mood on content, the study found that participants with higher anxiety/depression levels used the pronoun “I” more than “we” and used more negative emotion words when discussing the pandemic. These participants also talked more about their families and less about their friends. These results suggest that aspects of cognition affect the quantity and proposition density of samples, while differences in mood impacted content and word choice.