From Washington Post: Are college students “snowflakes” — triggered, traumatized and all together too delicate for the real world? Or are they apathetic — so unconcerned that they can’t be bothered to purchase stamps to send in their absentee ballots?
The two characterizations of young Americans are in conflict, observed Melissa Hagan, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. Her research has led her to believe that neither captures what’s going on in the minds of young people. Their intense reaction to political events runs contrary to the charge of apathy, she said, while the emotional trauma they report should not be dismissed as hypersensitivity.
With a team of researchers, she surveyed 769 introductory psychology students at Arizona State University in January and February 2017, asking about their satisfaction with the 2016 election, whether they were upset about the outcome and whether the results of the race had affected their close relationships.
The results were published Monday in an article, “Event-related clinical distress in college students: Responses to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election,” in the Journal of American College Health, a bimonthly, peer-reviewed public health journal. The article finds that 25 percent of students had “clinically significant event-related distress,” which it argues can predict future distress as well as diagnoses of PTSD, commonly associated with veterans and defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.”
The research speaks to the personal toll of partisan battles, and it offers insight into the perspective of young Americans coming to political consciousness in the era of President Trump.
Hagan, the article’s lead author, said she believed it was the first of its kind examining an election’s psychological impact on college students. She was motivated to conduct the study by what she saw in her classes the day after Trump clinched the presidency.
Her students were “visibly upset,” she recalled in an interview. “Some were even crying.” They told her that they were scared and anxious about policies that had been discussed on the campaign trail, she said, as well as about the elevation of “a candidate who had an audio recording of him describing sexual assault.”
The analysis reveals that women, racial minorities, people from working and lower-middle social classes, Democrats, non-Christians and sexual minorities reported significantly more election-related distress. Accounting for connections among various factors, the most useful predictors of stress were sex, political party, religion and perceived impact of the election on close relationships — more so than race and social class. Controlling for party affiliation, other demographic factors still influenced stress symptoms. In other words, Hagan said, it wasn’t just a case of sore losers.
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