Buffering effect of e-learning on Generation Z undergraduate students: A cross-sectional study during the second COVID-19 lockdown in Italy

Jessica Ranieri, Federica Guerra, Eleonora Cilli, Ilaria Caiazza, Nicholas Gentili, Barbara Ripani, Mariantonietta Canzio, Eleonora Coletti, Arianna Quassoni, Sabrina Niutta, Lavinia Colicchia, Silvia D'Alfonso, Dina Di Giacomo


Background: The massive adoption of e-learning in academic education during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic may be beneficial to digitally skilled individuals, such as Generation Z (Gen Z) members. However, some studies have underscored its negative psychological impact on the mental health of the young adults. We aimed to examine the psychological impact of prolonged e-learning on emotional adaptation among undergraduate students. A secondary objective was to identify key components for preventive interventions targeted toward the academic community by investigating the buffering effect of e-leaning on the impact of negative life events experienced during the pandemic.

Methods: The participants were 529 Italian undergraduate students aged 18–26 years. We administered measures of personality traits, anxiety symptoms, peritraumatic dissociation, stress, and affinity for e-learning. This study examined emotional adaptation among Gen Z members who were subjected to prolonged academic e-learning during the 2nd COVID-19 lockdown in Italy.

Results: Dysfunctional anxiety was not a major issue among our participants. This is indicative of the adoption of effective anxiety management skills during the pandemic. Nevertheless, the findings also underscored the vulnerability of the Gen Z population. Further, coronavirus anxiety significantly predicted mental health through the mediating effect of personality traits.

Conclusions: Therefore, health care professionals should design and implement interventions and programmes that focus on coronavirus anxiety and psychological distress.


Lockdown; COVID-19 Stress; Undergraduate; Isolation; Psychological impact; Buffer effect; Community.

Full Text:



Bellanti, F., Lo Buglio, A., Capuano, E., Dobrakowski, M., Kasperczyk, A., Kasperczyk, S., Ventriglio, A., et al. (2021). Factors Related to Nurses’ Burnout during the First Wave of Coronavirus Disease-19 in a University Hospital in Italy. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(10), 5051. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18105051

Benassi, E., Vallone, M., Camia, M., Scorza, M. (2020). Women during the Covid-19 lockdown: more anxiety symptoms in women with children than without children and role of the resilience. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 8(3). https://doi.org/10.6092/2282-1619/mjcp-2559

Bidzan M, Bidzan-Bluma I, Szulman-Wardal A, Stueck M and Bidzan M (2020) Does Self-Efficacy and Emotional Control Protect Hospital Staff From COVID-19 Anxiety and PTSD Symptoms? Psychological Functioning of Hospital Staff After the Announcement of COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic. Frontiers of Psychology 11:552583. 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.552583

Carmassi, C.; Bui, E.; Bertelloni, C.A.; Dell’Oste, V.; Pedrinelli, V.; Corsi, M.; Baldanzi, S.; Cristaudo, A.; Dell’Osso, L.; Buselli, R. (2021) Validation of the Italian version of the peritraumatic distress inventory: Validity, reliability and factor analysis in a sample of healthcare workers. European Journal of Psychotraumatology 12, 1879552.

Cielo, F., Ulberg, R., & Di Giacomo, D. (2021). Psychological Impact of the COVID-19 Outbreak on Mental Health Outcomes among Youth: A Rapid Narrative Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(11), 6067. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18116067

Deal, J. J., Altman, D. G. and Rogelberg, S. G. (2010) ‘Millennials at work: What we know and what we need to do (if anything)’, Journal of Business and Psychology, 258(2) http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10869-010-9177-2

Di Giacomo D. (2020) Public Health emergencies and quarantine: virtual patient engagement as challenge and opportunity for Mental Health strategy. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.6092/2282-1619/mjcp-2533

Dimock M (2019) Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/

Gallè F.; Sabella E. A.; Da Molin G.; De Giglio O.; Caggiano G.; Di Onofrio V.; Ferracuti S.; Montagna M.T.; Liguori G.; Orsi G.B.; Napoli C. (2020). Understanding Knowledge and Behaviors Related to CoViD–19 Epidemic in Italian Undergraduate Students: The EPICO Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17;10: 3481. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17103481

Giordano, L., Cipollaro, L., Migliorini, F., & Maffulli, N. (2020). Impact of Covid-19 on undergraduate and residency training. The Surgeon. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.surge.2020.09.014

Gori, A., Topino, E., Craparo, G., Lauro Grotto, R., Caretti, V. (2021). An empirical model for understanding the threat responses at the time of COVID-19. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.6092/2282-1619/mjcp-2916

Guido, G., Peluso, A. M., Capestro, M., & Miglietta, M. (2015). An Italian version of the 10‐item Big Five Inventory: an application to hedonic and utilitarian shopping values. Personality and Individual Differences, 76, 135–140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.11.053

Guo, A. A., Crum, M. A., & Fowler, L. A. (2021). Assessing the Psychological Impacts of COVID-19 in Undergraduate Medical Students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(6), 2952. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18062952

He, F., Deng, Y., & Li, W. (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019: What we know?. Journal of medical virology, 1–7. https://doi.org/0.1002/jmv.25766

Kang, L., Li, Y., Hu, S., Chen, M., Yang, C., Yang, B. X., ... & Chen, J. (2020). The mental health of medical workers in Wuhan, China dealing with the 2019 novel coronavirus. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(3), e14. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30047-X

Lai, J., Ma, S., Wang, Y., Cai, Z., Hu, J., Wei, N., ... & Hu, S. (2020). Factors associated with mental health outcomes among health care workers exposed to coronavirus disease 2019. JAMA network open, 3(3), e203976-e203976. 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.3976

Li Y, Wang Y, Jiang J, Valdimarsdottir U, et al. (2020) Psychological distress among health professional students during the COVID-19 outbreak. Psychological Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291720001555

Liu, C., McCabe, M., Dawson, A., Cyrzon, C., Shankar, S., Gerges, N., Kellett-Renzella, S., et al. (2021). Identifying Predictors of University Students’ Wellbeing during the COVID-19 Pandemic—A Data-Driven Approach. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(13), 6730. MDPI AG. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18136730

Manivannan, M., Jogalekar, M. P., Kavitha, M. S., Maran, B., & Gangadaran, P. (2021). A mini-review on the effects of COVID-19 on younger individuals. Experimental biology and medicine 246(3), 293–297. https://doi.org/10.1177/1535370220975118

Marcén-Román, Y., Gasch-Gallen, A., Vela Martín de la Mota, I. I., Calatayud, E., Gómez-Soria, I., & Rodríguez-Roca, B. (2021). Stress Perceived by University Health Sciences Students, 1 Year after COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(10), 5233. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18105233

Marmar, C. R., Weiss, D. S., & Metzler, T. J. The Peritraumatic Dissociative Experiences Questionnaire. In J. P. Wilson & T. M. Keane (Eds.), Assessing psychological trauma and PTSD (pp. 412–428). Guildford Press, 1997.

Moccia, L.; Janiri, D.; Giuseppin, G.; Agrifoglio, B.; Monti, L.; Mazza, M.; Caroppo, E.; Fiorillo, A.; Sani, G.; Di Nicola, M.; Janiri, L. (2021) Reduced Hedonic Tone and Emotion Dysregulation Predict Depressive Symptoms Severity during the COVID-19 Outbreak: An Observational Study on the Italian General Population. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18, 255. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18010255

Orrù, G.; Bertelloni, D.; Diolaiuti, F.; Conversano, C.; Ciacchini, R.; Gemignani, A. (2021) Psychometric Examination of the Coronavirus Anxiety Scale and the Fear of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Scale in the Italian Population. Frontiers of Psychology 12, 669384. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.669384

Pinto, L. H. and Ramalheira, D. C. (2017) ‘Perceived employability of business graduates: The effect of academic performance and extracurricular activities’, Journal of Vocational Behavior 99;165–178. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2017.01.005

Ranieri, J., Guerra, F., & Di Giacomo, D. (2021). Predictive risk factors for post-traumatic stress symptoms among nurses during the Italian acute COVID-19 outbreak. Health Psychology Report, 9(2), 180-185. https://doi.org/10.5114/hpr.2020.101249

Rens, E., Smith, P., Nicaise, P., Lorant, V., & Van den Broeck, K. (2021). Mental distress and its contributing factors among young people during the first wave of COVID-19: a Belgian survey study. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12, 35. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.575553

Serafini G, Parmigiani B, Amerio A, Aguglia A, Sher L, Amore, M (2020) The psychological impact of COVID-19 on the mental health in the general population, QJM: An International Journal of Medicine 113(8); 531–537. https://doi.org/10.1093/qjmed/hcaa201

Settineri, S., Merlo, E. M. (2020). Editorial: Fear of Contamination. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.6092/2282-1619/mjcp-2424

Sherman A. Lee (2020) Coronavirus Anxiety Scale: A brief mental health screener for COVID-19 related anxiety, Death Studies, 44:7, 393-401.https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07481187.2020.1748481

Somma, A., Marelli, S., Gialdi, G., Castelnuovo, A., Momberlli, S., Ferini-Strambi, L., Fossati, A. (2020). Latent Changes in Perceived Quality of Sleep Related to the COVID-19 Quarantine Measures in Italian University Students: Understanding the Role of Personality and Internalizing Symptoms. Mediterranean Journal of Clinical Psychology, 8(3). https://doi.org/10.6092/2282-1619/mjcp-2550

Tahara, M., Mashizume, Y., & Takahashi, K. (2020). Coping Mechanisms: Exploring Strategies Utilized by Japanese Healthcare Workers to Reduce Stress and Improve Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(1), 131. MDPI AG.


Tanhan, A., Yavuz, K. F., Young, J. S., Nalbant, A., Arslan, G., Yıldırım, M., & Çiçek, İ. (2020). A proposed framework based on literature review of online contextual mental health services to enhance wellbeing and address psychopathology during COVID-19. Electronic Journal of General Medicine, 17(6), em254. https://doi.org/10.29333/ejgm/8316.

Wills, T., & Isasi, C. Buffering effect. In R. F. Baumester & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2007

Zurlo, M. C., Cattaneo Della Volta, M. F., & Vallone, F. (2020). COVID-19 student stress questionnaire: development and validation of a questionnaire to evaluate students’ stressors related to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 2892. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.576758

DOI: https://doi.org/10.13129/2282-1619/mjcp-3051


  • There are currently no refbacks.