Investigation of Digital Media Use, Anxiety, and Biobehavioral Emotion Regulation in Adolescents

Project: Research project

Project Details


PROJECT SUMMARY Anxiety symptom onset peaks in adolescence, with an estimated one in three teens experiencing clinically-significant symptoms by age 18 years. Adolescent anxiety confers risk for adulthood anxiety disorders, as well as poor outcomes in multiple domains including overall health and interpersonal functioning. Over the past several decades, the social world of teens has been transformed by pervasive use of digital media (e.g., social media, messaging apps) ingrained in daily life. Both adolescent anxiety and digital media use have continued to become increasingly prevalent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the urgent need for rigorous investigations of longitudinal and mechanistic links between digital technology use and mental health. Guided by three major gaps in the literature, the proposed study will (1) capture how youth engage in digital media use in ways that facilitate or disrupt social connectedness, (2) examine when youth use digital media in the context of momentary affect and anxiety in daily life, and (3) address why digital media use may be beneficial or detrimental for some by examining mechanistic links among biobehavioral cognitive and affective functioning, digital media use, and anxiety. In particular, adolescence is a critical period of neurodevelopment in frontal-subcortical circuitry underlying emotion regulation, the implicit and explicit processes by which we manage emotions, and a major predictor of anxiety disorders. This study will leverage an innovative, multi-method (i.e., questionnaires, interviews, reaction time, eye-tracking, EEG) biobehavioral assessment of emotion regulation coupled with ecological momentary assessment (EMA) of within-person daily patterns of digital media use, emotional experiences, anxiety symptoms, and emotion regulation measured longitudinally in teens. We will index youths' emotion regulation strengths and vulnerabilities by (1) contextualizing emotion regulation within adolescents' daily life, (2) targeting both explicit and implicit regulatory processes, and (3) capturing biobehavioral aspects of ER that reflect rapid attentional processes, cognitive control, and flexibility. This work is in line with the Research Domain Criteria initiative to investigate developmental change within ecologically-valid environments by integrating measurement across multiple domains [(negative valence (potential threat), cognitive systems (attention, control), social processes (communication, connectedness), arousal (affective states)] and across units of analysis (physiology, behaviors, paradigms, self-reports). This research aligns with the NIH-wide strategic plan emphasizing the need to illuminate the role of technology and media use in development and will contribute to NIMH's Objective 2 by furthering the interrogation of biobehavioral indicators related to anxiety symptom trajectories in youth. Findings from this research have the potential to elucidate the impact of digital media use on vulnerable individuals and inform recommendations for healthy technology use.
Effective start/end date9/8/236/30/25


  • National Institute of Mental Health: $692,172.00


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