Dr. Audell Shelburne, professor of English, left, and Dr. Beth Melles, assistant professor of psychology and counseling, are conducting the research study titled Thought Patterns and Social Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic. They are not social distancing from each other, as they are married with two children under the age of 2.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A wife and husband who both teach at a regional university in northeast Oklahoma have developed an online survey to track thought patterns on social distancing.

Dr. Beth Melles, assistant professor of psychology and counseling, and Dr. Audell Shelburne, professor of English, titled their project "Thought Patterns and Social Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic." 

"It stemmed from a desire to use my skills to make an impact," said Melles. "I've seen a lot of research on the medical front - just now, seeing more behavioral or psychological studies."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website states: "Social distancing, also called physical distancing, means keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your home." The study aims to determine people's willingness to practice social distancing and how they practiced it in the past seven days.

The study has two components. One looks at the motives of control, and the other is an experiment to see if people can be educated to have their views changed. Melles' theory is if people think life just happens, they're less likely to practice social distancing.

Melles has family in Austin, and she has noticed they were responding differently to distancing guidelines. With the different levels of authority not always in agreement on how the situation should be handled, people may not understand how to stay as safe as possible.

"Shelter in place - what does that mean? Communication to the people needs to be credible," she said. "You have to give people specific steps."

Survey takers must live in the United States and be 18 or older. They will respond to demographic questions and queries about their behaviors, typical ways of thinking, and beliefs about the future. They will also be asked to read through information about social distancing. The survey, which takes about 20-30 minutes to complete, randomly assigns either a filler activity or the psychological education to those who take it.

One of the infographics indicates how infection numbers can be reduced by limiting social contact. If one person does not reduce exposure, he or she would infect 1.5 people in five days, leading to 406 people being infected in 30 days. If social distancing is reduced by 50 percent, 1.25 people would be infected in five days, and 15 in 30 days. By reducing exposure by 75 percent, .625 are infected in five days, and 2.5 in 30 days.


The survey has been open for a little over a week, and as of Friday morning, April 17, 230 responses had been completed. 

"It's a snowball sampling technique. You send to people you know and they share with people they know," said Melles. "It rolls downhill and picks up. It will get a surge and then it dies."

Melles said the more participation the survey gets, the more helpful the information will be. She said she'll finish collecting the data in the next couple of weeks and then analyze it.

"If we find something of significance, we'll write it up as soon as possible and get it published so other people can benefit from it," said Melles. "The write-up portion takes the most time. You have to provide what you found and the reasoning behind the hypothesis."

Melles has extended family in England and spent her developmental years in France. She has taught at NSU for five years, and said she is pretty serious about social distancing.

"It's been interesting being here during this time," she said. "At the moment, our only weapon we have to fight it is social distancing."

Get involved

To take the Thought Patterns and Social Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic survey, visit

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