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College students underestimate their roommates’ distress: study

New research suggests that roommates’ perception of each other’s distress could be useful for monitoring the mental health of college students

fitness Updated: Feb 24, 2018 15:07 IST
Press Trust of India, New York
College students,Depression,Anxiety
College students can detect certain levels of distress in their roommates. (Shutterstock)

College students are sensitive to their roommates’ distress but tend to underestimate the level of distress being experienced by others, a study has found. The research suggests that roommates’ perception of each other’s distress could be useful for monitoring the mental health of college students, but there are ways that students could be trained to be more accurate.

“College students can detect certain levels of distress in their roommates and spot changes over the course of a semester, but they nonetheless underestimate the absolute level of distress,” said Patrick Shrout from New York University in the US. “More universal training on how to identify and respond to the distress of peers might have the benefit of encouraging conversations among roommates about what actions each might take if he or she notices another experiencing extreme distress,” the researchers said.

For the study, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the researchers studied 187 same-sex undergraduate roommate pairs. At two times during the academic year - February and April - each roommate in the pair reported his or her own distress level as well as that perceived in the other roommate. Comparing these reports allowed the researchers to quantify accuracy and bias.

They were able to determine which students were becoming more (or less) distressed over time and to compare the changes to roommates’ rankings. The biases found at the separate time points did not carry over to the inferences about distress change. When students’ reports indicated that their roommates were experiencing more distress, the target roommates tended to self-report more distress as well.

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First Published: Feb 24, 2018 15:06 IST