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Investigating the impact of COVID-19 on anxiety and cognitive function in older adolescents

10 November 2020

On 10 November 2020 the Bristol Neuroscience Research Network hosted a webinar delivered by Meg Attwood, a second year PhD student based in the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol.

In the session Meg presented the findings of a recent study, conducted during the first national lockdown, to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on anxiety and cognitive function in older adolescents. This study was supported by an Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Rapid Response (COVID-19) award.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant, prolonged disruption to young peoples’ education, social interactions, and daily routine. During the first national lockdown, older adolescents (aged 16-18 years) experienced a particular set of challenges - examination cancellations, university uncertainty and concerns over job prospects, alongside extended periods of educational disruption. Older adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to negative effects of lockdown given rising rates of prevalence of emotional disorders (particularly anxiety) in this age group (NHS Digital, 2017).

Anxiety disorders are common in adolescence, with prevalence rates estimated at between 10-30% (Merikangas et al., 2010). Both clinical and subclinical levels of anxiety are associated with cognitive impairment and academic underachievement (Crawley et al., 2014; Crozier & Hostettler, 2003).

This study investigated the impact of lockdown on both psychological wellbeing and cognitive function in older adolescents, examining subjective changes in mood, focus and concentration, alongside factors that contributed to increased vulnerability to anxiety.

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