The Coronavirus (COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2) pandemic erupted in March 2020 and significantly disrupted the daily lives of all individuals. The limited number of COVID-19 research studies have focused on psychological distress in general adult populations or in essential workers, but its effects on Autobiographical Memory (AM), the collection of personal memories that aid in the formation of one’s goals and identities, have not yet been explored. The current study contributes important discoveries to the growing body of literature through its exploration of the intersection of COVID-19-related stress, AM performance, and sex assigned at birth in undergraduate college students. Results suggest that COVID-19-related stress, induced via a modified Mannheim Multicomponent Stress Test (MMST), significantly impeded an individual’s ability to produce a specific memory. Additionally, biological sex significantly influenced a participant’s duration of memory retrieval, level of memory specificity, and affective response to the memory during the Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT). Female participants recalled memories faster, produced more specific memories, embodied a more negative affect, and experienced more physiological stress, measured by the Empatica E4 Wristband. These results suggest that the consequences of COVID-19-related stress include disruptions of identity formation, and that biological sex modulates one’s memory recall, memory specificity, affective response, and physiological stress response. Furthermore, COVID-19 appears to evoke amplified stress in college students who are assigned female at birth, are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and/or have elevated baseline anxiety levels, which increases their likelihood of developing a psychological disorder and/or symptomatology. This study adds to current literature on the impact of COVID-19 on depressive, anxiety, trauma, and stress-related disorders.
Kass, Mirelle, "Exploring the Relationship of Gender, COVID-19-Related Stress and Autobiographical Memory" (2021). Behavioral Neuroscience Honors Papers. 10.
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