Thursday, May 2, 2013

New Study Of College Roommates Examines Cognitive Vulnerability To Depression

The randomness of college roommate assignments...


It is springtime and across the country high school seniors, along with community college students, have recently learned if they have been accepted to a four year college or university. Many of these students will be looking forward to living away from home for the first time in their lives, they will be moving into a college dorm and may very well be living with a total stranger.

It is probably fair to say that college roommate assignments are not as random as they were just a few decades ago. In the past it was not unusual for a college to assign two roommates based on gender and grade level. It could have been as simple as alphabetically sorting all of the incoming freshman women and men and pairing them by going down the list.

Did you ever live in a dorm? 


Two happy college roommates!
If you answered yes to this question, do you remember your first college roommate? If so, did you get along with each other, did you have anything in common other than your gender, age and college choice?  In preparing this post today, we posed these questions to an associate. Here is what she recalls about her experience some 40 years ago...
"My first roommate was very bright and serious. I remember she was almost too serious, given to ranting and raving about all kinds of issues, like class assignments, boys, politics, and religion. She was not a happy person.  I recall she came back to the dorm one night having had a few drinks and she talked about getting a knife. It occurred to me that I wish she weren't my roommate, but I didn't know how to request a change. As luck would have it, she didn't like me any more than I liked her. But she was proactive and sought out another roommate and came to me one day (early in the Fall semester) and asked if I would consider swapping roommates. I was delighted...my new roommate was a really happy young woman. She was cheerful, helpful and loved life."
College friends and roommates often have a big impact on our lives, not unlike the friendships we forge in high school. We may find that we form lifelong friendships or maybe it is just one brief moment in time when our lives our intimately intertwined for better or worse.

New study examines cognitive vulnerability and college roommates


On April 16, 2013, a new study was published online in Clinical Psychological Science, A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science: Cognitive Vulnerability to Depression Can Be Contagious. The study's authors are Gerald J. Haeffel (lead author) and Jennifer L. Hames from the Department of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. According to the abstract:

Cognitive vulnerability is a potent risk factor for depression. Individual differences in cognitive vulnerability solidify in early adolescence and remain stable throughout the life span. However, stability does not mean immutability. We hypothesized that cognitive vulnerability would be susceptible to change during major life transitions when social milieus undergo significant changes (e.g., moving to college). Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that cognitive vulnerability could change via a contagion effect. We tested this hypothesis using a prospective longitudinal design with a sample of randomly assigned college freshmen roommate pairs (103 pairs). Results supported the hypotheses. Participants who were randomly assigned to a roommate with high levels of cognitive vulnerability were likely to “catch” their roommate’s cognitive style and develop higher levels of cognitive vulnerability. Moreover, those who experienced an increase in cognitive vulnerability had significantly greater levels of depressive symptoms over the prospective interval than those who did not.  

Again, the randomness of college roommate assignments...


As we mentioned above, today young people have many different ways to select a college roommate. Additionally, once you receive a roommate assignment you can simply do a search on GOOGLE, Yahoo, Bing, FACEBOOK, Twitter and discover a lot of details about your prospective roommate. What you discover may encourage you to ask for another roommate before the college year even begins.   CNN Health offers an interesting observation from Dr. Haeffel:
"For many freshmen, going to college is a seminal life transition. They are moving away from home for the first time, and their social context is turned on its head. An important feature of our design was that students were randomly assigned to roommates. This means that students were not able to actively choose someone to live with. (They) had to live with a stranger who might have a completely different style of thinking."
This is an interesting study and we invite you to read the related articles shared below.

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