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Social and Affective Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on University Students

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented set of disruptions to university students’ learning modalities, mental health, and social interactions. Students have had to pivot to online learning and navigate unexpected social isolation, leading to the development of different ways to connect with social groups as well as different personal pursuits. Despite downward trends in restrictions and growing progress with vaccinations, the pandemic still threatens and has impacts on students’ lives daily, such as required testing, mask-wearing, and isolation for individuals testing positive for COVID-19. We conducted a study to examine self-reported coping strategies, social interaction, social emotion regulation, and mental health symptoms in university students. We collected data at two time points so that we could compare these variables between spring of 2020 and summer of 2021. Additionally, this is the first line of research to measures university students’ levels of social reappraisal support. We tested whether frequency of communication with core social contacts was significantly related to the social reappraisal support students received from those contacts, and if the support was related to mental health symptoms. We then gathered online survey responses from more than 150 university students across North America. Participants were asked to complete various psychometric measures, along with two custom questionnaires: the Pandemic Coping Questionnaire and the Social Network and Reappraisal Questionnaire. In both the current study and the previous study, we observed that students were experiencing less social interaction overall relative to before the pandemic; nevertheless, higher frequency in communication with core social contacts predicted greater social reappraisal support from those contacts. Additionally, we found that perceived stress was significantly lower in the summer of 2021 than the spring of 2020. Finally, participants who reported higher social reappraisal support from core social contacts also reported significantly less perceived stress. These results reaffirm that social contacts are important influences on reappraisal, which may then impact mental health.