Expert explains psychology behind some college students’ reaction to pandemic

Posted at 12:34 PM, Sep 29, 2020

Although colleges have put rules in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, some students have chosen not to follow them and have instead gathered at parties, bars and dorms.

“An enormous part of going to college is the social experiences and the social awakening and the independence of moving away from home, and those two components are really inconsistent with living in quarantine,” said Ben Locke, Senior Director for Counseling and Psychological Services at Penn State University.

Locke says at this stage in brain development, teenagers are more wired to take risks in lieu of social benefits. Just like adults, they're impacted by mixed messages from government officials.

Younger people also don't have any prior experience with this kind of global event.

“The decision that you make is not about necessarily your safety. It's about other people's safety, and the consequences of a bad decision on your part might not be known to the person next to you for ten days,” said Locke. “It's really easy to be lulled into thinking everything's fine.”

Locke says most students he's talked with want to make this work and are frustrated with others putting them at risk.

He thinks schools can help by encouraging everyone to work together to stay on campus and punishing students who don't follow the rules.