The psychological impact of the lockdown on Italian university students during the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic: psychological experiences, health risk perceptions, distance learning, and future perspectives

Elena Commodari, Valentina Lucia La Rosa, Giulia Carnemolla, Jessica Parisi


Background: This study aimed to explore the lockdown experience on a sample of university students during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy, focusing on the degree of confidence in the information received about the pandemic, the perceived health risk related to COVID-19, the psychological experiences related to quarantine, and the opinions regarding distance learning and the measures to adopt after the total lockdown. More specifically, we hypothesized that living in an area with more restrictions significantly contributes to accentuating the negative psychological impact of the quarantine experience. Furthermore, we assumed that a high perception of risk and a high fear of contracting the virus are significantly associated with more negative feelings during the lockdown. Conversely, adherence to pandemic containment measures and confidence in the information received on COVID-19 are predictors of positive emotions.

Methods: 655 university students completed a battery of standardized questionnaires between April 22 and May 1, 2020. The data was analyzed through univariate, bivariate, and multivariate analysis.

Results: The students showed to be highly informed about the pandemic and confident regarding the information received about the virus. Furthermore, they had a good perception of their risk of contracting COVID-19. Overall, the results highlighted a significant psychological impact of the lockdown. Students reported greater feelings of sadness (51.3%), nervousness (64.6%), and irritability (57%) than usual, with increased ruminations (70.9%). Furthermore, difficulty concentrating (55.9%), sleeping (54.5%), eating disorders (73.6%), tachycardia (65%), and a tendency to cry (65%) were also reported. Multiple regression suggests that female and younger students who lived in areas with a higher rate of contagion ("red zones") experienced more negative feelings related to quarantine. Moreover, high levels of perceived susceptibility and less compliance with government measures were associated with negative psychological experiences.

Conclusions: These results show that university students represent a vulnerable population, and specific interventions are needed to protect their psychological wellbeing during the pandemic. It would be interesting to evaluate the psychological impact of the subsequent waves of contagion due to the persistence of the pandemic's stressful event.


COVID-19; Lockdown; University students; Risk perception; Clinical psychology.

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