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Adolescents’ Motivations to Engage in Social Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Associations With Mental and Social Health

With the novel corona virus disease (COVID-19) being declared a pandemic on March 13th, 2020, there is questions about youth’s motivations to social distance. The current study aims to looks at these motivations for social distancing, how these are related to the degree of social distancing, and to look at connections between motivations and adolescents’ mental and social health.

The study included 683 adolescents living in the United States with an average age of 16.35. The measures included social distancing and motivations, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, belongingness, burdensomeness, and demographics. Social distancing was examined by asking participants if in the past 7 days they engaged in social distancing and to what degree. There were 10 motivations which included things like avoid others sick, avoid personal sick, friends said I should, avoid judgment, etc. Anxiety was assessed by asking if they felt nervous in the last 7 days and depressive symptoms were assessed by asking if they felt sad in the last 7 days. Demographics included age, gender, race, financial strain, and parents’ education.

Results showed that 27% of youth engaged in social distancing a lot and 57% engaged a great deal. 78% said that their motivations were for social responsibility and not wanting others to get sick. Researchers found those who social distanced because they did not want to get sick or to avoid judgement reported greater anxiety symptoms. Those participants social distancing because they wanted to stay home reported less anxiety and depressive symptoms and motivations being friends telling them to reported more depressive symptoms. Finally, motivations to not get personally sick had lower feelings of burdensomeness and motivations because their parents made them reported higher belonginess. This research is important when finding ways to encourage adolescents and young adults to social distance.  

Take Away: The current study aims to look at adolescents’ motivations for social distancing during the corona virus disease pandemic. The goal was to find motivations along with seeing if there are connections between these and youths mental and social health. The study included 683 adolescents living in America with measures including social distancing and motivations, anxiety, depression, belongingness, burdensomeness, and demographics. Results showed a majority of participants engaged in some form of social distancing with the greatest motivators being social responsibility and not wanting others to get sick. Different motivations were found to be associated with anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, burdensomeness, and belongingness.

Oosterhoff, B., Palmer, C., Wilson, J., & Shook, N. (2020). Adolescents’ Motivations to Engage in Social Distancing during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Associations with Mental and Social Health. doi:10.31234/osf.io/jd2kq

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