Predictors of academic performance during the covid-19 outbreak: impact of distance education on mental health, social cognition and memory abilities in an Italian university student sample

This article was originally published here

BMC Psychol. 2021 Sep 15;9(1):142. doi: 10.1186/s40359-021-00649-9.


BACKGROUND: This study aimed to investigate the impact of distance education (DE) on mental health, social cognition, and memory abilities in a sample of university students during the national COVID-19 lockdown in Italy and to identify the predictors of academic performance.

METHODS: Two hundred and three students (76.4% women, mean age 24.3, SD ± 4.9) responded to an anonymous online cross-sectional survey between July 15 and September 30, 2020, on DE experience and cognitive and social-cognitive variables. A short version of the Beck Depression Inventory-II, ten images from the Eyes Task, and five memory vignette stimuli were included in the survey. Descriptive, one-way ANOVA, correlation, and logistic regression analyses were conducted.

RESULTS: Half of the student sample reported significant impairment in concentration and learning abilities during DE. Regarding psychological health, 19.7%, 27.1%, and 23.6% of the sample reported mild, moderate, and severe depressive symptoms, respectively. Correlation analyses showed a statistically significant negative association between depression and the overall subjective evaluation of DE (r = – 0.359; p < 0.000). Changes in one’s study context and habits, i.e., studying alone at one’s parents’ home instead of studying with colleagues or alone in a university “social place” (e.g., the university library), seemed to increase the likelihood of poor academic performance by almost 3 times (O.R. 3.918; p = 0.032). This predictor was no longer statistically significant in the subsequent step when the individual impairment predictors were entered. Learning concentration impairment during DE (O.R. 8.350; p = 0.014), anxiety about COVID-19 contagion for oneself or others (O.R. 3.363; p = 0.022), female gender (O.R. 3.141; p = 0.045), and depressive symptomatology (O.R. 1.093; p = 0.047) were ultimately determined to be the strongest predictors of poor academic performance, whereas the appreciation of DE represented a protective variable (O.R. 0.610; p < 0.000).

CONCLUSIONS: The study showed a negative impact of DE on the mental health of students presenting depressive symptoms and impairment in concentration and learning, the latter identified as the strongest predictors of poor academic performances. The study confirms the emerging need to monitor the impact of DE, which occurred during the 2019/2020 academic year and will continue in the coming months, to refine educational offerings and meet students’ psychological needs by implementing psychological interventions based on the modifiable variables that seem to compromise students’ psychological well-being and academic outcomes.

PMID:34526153 | DOI:10.1186/s40359-021-00649-9