Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chairperson

Lauri Hyers, PhD

Committee Member

Lauren Brumley, PhD

Committee Member

Susan Gans, PhD


Our qualitative diary study explores the emotional responses of college students to the social distancing protocols in place in the USA during the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the psychological benefit of social connection, it is important to examine how Covid-19 social distancing measures affected well-being. We focused on impacts on young adult college students. As part of an undergraduate senior capstone course at a medium-sized public university in the Eastern USA, psychology seniors were asked to keep diaries of their thoughts and feelings about the Covid-19 pandemic. This offered a unique opportunity to understand their first-person, real-time accounts and reactions to ongoing social distancing protocols. Our research honors their words and experiences as told through their own spontaneous narrations of in four diary-keeping cohorts, starting from the onset of the virus in early 2020 through the wide dispensation of the Covid-19 vaccination by late 2021. From a selection of twenty participant diaries, we extracted all entries related to social distancing protocols and then used etic and emic coding strategies to characterize the students’ sentiments as they related to three research questions: (1) What forms of social distancing were mentioned in the diaries? (2) What emotions were associated with entries about social distancing? (3) How did gender relate to the emotions associated with social distancing? Students spontaneously dedicated a substantial amount of their diary passages to social distancing topics, which were associated most strongly with fear, joy, and sadness, and to a lesser extent anger, disgust, and surprise. Gender differences in emotional reactions were not robust, however there were emotions that related to gender in a manner consistent with gender norms. Results are discussed with regard to the impact of the pandemic on students’ well-being, the socio-emotional toll of social distancing procedures, and implications for easing these impacts in future public health crises.