Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Jennifer Ma

Reader 2

Theodore Bartholomew


With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, a need has emerged for psychological research on children’s understanding of infectious disease transmission. However, little existing research examines the link between children’s cognitive reasoning about illness and their subsequent behaviors regarding its transmissibility. This study will examine children’s conceptualizations of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19 and their subsequent contagion avoidance. A mixed methods approach will be used to establish the content of children’s conceptualizations of contagion and level of causal reasoning related to illness transmission. Dyads will be constructed comprising 4-12-year-old children and their parents. It is expected that parental contagion avoidance behaviors will predict those of their children, although this relationship will be moderated by age. It is hypothesized that younger children will rely on social learning and mimicry of their parents to inform their contagion avoidance behaviors. However, it is also expected that as children grow older, they will be more likely to engage in contagion avoidance behaviors due to their own development of a more complex and causal understanding of illness transmission. Grounded theory and content analysis will be used to generate themes about children’s motivation to engage in contagion avoidance. It is hypothesized that children’s motivations will be predicted by their age and general cognitive understanding of illness. This research may inform how contagion avoidance behaviors can be encouraged in children.