Why Graduates' Cognitive Ability is Declining During The Pandemic

It is of no surprise to learn that the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively affected people from all walks of life and left many feeling greater anxiety, financial worry, and loneliness. Stay-at-home orders have not only decimated our livelihoods, we are now also beginning to see to the lingering effects on our society.

In October 2020, shortly after the second Covid wave in Australia, rates of life satisfaction dropped sharply in Victoria, and rates of anxiety and worry significantly increased Australia-wide. Australians in the 18-24 age range experienced the largest increase in psychological distress. Mental health conditions have long been known to impact cognitive functioning, with depression and anxiety reducing the body’s ability to cope with day-to-day tasks, brain capacity is reduced and people struggle to function at their best (Lukasik et al., 2019; Shilyansky et al., 2016).

Research has found that the dominant emotion many have been experiencing throughout this pandemic is called Languishing. Known as the neglected middle child of mental health, it can completely dull motivation and focus. It’s not quite burnout, nor depression. It is a state of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.

IMPACT ON COGNITIVE FUNCTION

Prolonged time in a socially impoverished environment is detrimental to key aspects of cognitive function. Recent research suggests that the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic led to worse performance in terms of cognitive functioning, including fluid intelligence, working memory, and cognitive control (Bogliacino et al., 2021). Additionally, social isolation had a detrimental effect on cognitive abilities, such as executive functioning and memory (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020). Adults experiencing cognitive decline show riskier decision-making in comparison to healthy controls (Smart & Krawitz, 2015); age-related decline in cognitive processing may lead to decision-making deficits as adults age (Beitz et al., 2014). Even relatively short-term social isolation—specifically, reduced social contact with those outside the household—has a negative impact on cognitive abilities/executive functions. 

IMPACT TREND

This year, Our Psychology team identified a trend in the graduate recruitment space when several organisations attracted candidate pools with lower cognitive ability assessment scores than previous years. Consequently, we embarked on an investigation to determine if these appearances were backed by data by utilising TRIO Essentials to measure graduates’ cognitive ability and compared their psychometric assessment results pre and post-pandemic. So, with these feelings of ‘languishing’, and mental health difficulties persisting in 2021, is there a significant reduction in graduates’ cognitive capacity and psychometric test scores? If so, how can recruitment processes be optimised to suit this ‘new normal’?. To learn more about the study and how you can adjust your process to support graduates, download our Languishing Whitepaper here and stay one step ahead of the inevitable graduate recruitment changes ahead.

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