Science simplified

By Reagan Oliver, Guest Writer

Published on Dec. 1, 2022, a study conducted by I.H. Gotlib. studied the impact of COVID-19 on a neurological level for adolescents. 

The study initially began in 2016, aiming to examine stress levels across different stages of puberty by collecting data from 163 adolescents. This data included results from self-reporting to the 10-item version of the Children’s Depression Inventory and results from a series of magnetic resonance images (MRI). 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person assessments at the beginning of March 2020. This was when the researchers decided to pivot their research from the effects of puberty on the adolescent mind to the impact of the pandemic on the adolescent mind. 

After receiving approval from the Stanford Institutional Review Board, they continued the study by collecting the same data from participants they had prior to the shutdown. 

The researchers concluded that adolescents had higher levels of internalizing mental health problems, reduced cortical thickness, larger hippocampal volume, larger amygdala volume and more advanced brain age after experiencing COVID-19 related shutdowns compared to before. 

To explain some of the results, a reduced cortical thickness is associated with lower levels of emotional processing. A larger hippocampal volume is associated with increased environmental harshness, therefore demanding a higher memory level. A larger amygdala volume is associated with higher rates of depression. 

The results of the study display the psychological changes adolescents experienced over the past few years. While shutdowns may be over and life may be returning to the “old” normal, the pandemic has changed everything — even for those who have never contracted COVID-19.