Social Support May Ward Off Anxiety-Related Cognitive Decline

College students who lived alone during the COVID-19 pandemic, but had social support from a significant other, experienced less anxiety-related cognitive decline than those without that support according to a study recently published in Personality and Individual Differences.

While several studies have examined the impact of social support on anxiety levels during the pandemic, the researchers took this one step further, examining living arrangements and how support from family, friends, and significant others affect mental health.

The researchers recruited 215 college students for the study and used various depression, anxiety, perceived social support, and cognitive assessments. They found higher anxiety was related to poor cognitive performance regardless of living arrangement or social support.

The study also found those with less social support from friends experienced lower cognitive performance than their more-supported peers regardless of whether they lived alone or with others. However, “higher social support from a significant other afforded a protective factor whereby buffering the anxiety related cognitive deficits prevalent in those who reported lower social support,” the researchers stated.

The study results suggest that high anxiety related to COVID-19 may have interfered with cognitive performance in college. The researchers admit the study used a small sample from one university in Australia, so it may not generalize to all students. Also, self-reported cognitive performance may not correlate to academic performance.

“It is essential to raise awareness of the importance of building meaningful relationships,” the researchers concluded.

“Given the social distancing and isolation restrictions of the pandemic, and the reduced capacity to provide face-to-face activities for students, it is crucial that meaningful relationships are developed and sustained through online and virtual means in order to support not only the mental health but also, as a consequence, the cognitive performance of university students.”


Edwards EJ, Zhang X, Chu KL, Cosgrove LK, Vaughan RS. Explaining individual differences in cognitive performance: the role of anxiety, social support and living arrangements during COVID-19. Pers Individ Dif. 2022;198:111826. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2022.111826