Category Archives: Youngsters

Despite popular claims: little experimental evidence for influence of the internet on teenage brains (review)

There are two popular – but opposing – ideas about the internet and young people: Internet makes them more stupid versus Internet empowers them and we should look at the kids to now our future.

Kathryn Mills made a review of the existing evidence and concludes:

  • Adults are concerned about the effects of new technologies on the developing brain.

  • Different aspects of Internet use have different effects on adolescent health.

  • Neuroimaging research on this topic has focused on nonrepresentative samples.

  • There is currently no evidence that typical Internet use harms the adolescent brain.

And there are also some interesting facts in her article in Cell:

Although it is unclear how time spent specifically using the Internet relates to physical activity, a longitudinal study of 11–13-year-olds (n = 908) suggests that engaging in screen-based sedentary behaviors such as computer use is not associated with less engagement in leisure-time physical activities

Or:

At this time we cannot be sure whether Internet use is creating a generation with ‘fundamentally different cognitive skills’, although recent studies have begun to test the potential effects of widespread Internet use on the cognitive abilities of young adults.

And:

Although there are neuroimaging studies that have investigated the effects of Internet use on the adolescent brain, these studies have focused on adolescents classified as excessive Internet users (see [11] for a review). The results of these studies are unlikely to apply to the majority (an estimated 95.6%; see [12]) of adolescents that do not qualify as excessive Internet users.

 

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Funny on Sunday: what is Grand Theft Auto like in Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality is great, but maybe some games can become a bit too real…

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How a selfie can make you feel happier (study)

To many people selfies are sign of the present narcissism. And pictures like this don’t help it:

But this new study does give some consolation: regularly snapping selfies with your smartphone and sharing photos with your friends can help make you a happier person.

Wait, this is the opposite of the idea that social media can make you more depressed? Well, we already saw it is a bit more complicated than that. This new study is quite interesting and has both a lot of data and a very limited amount of people involved. The latter is the weakest element of this study, imho.

From the press release:

By conducting exercises via smartphone photo technology and gauging users’ psychological and emotional states, the researchers found that the daily taking and sharing of certain types of images can positively affect people. The results of the study out of UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences were published recently in the Psychology of Well-Being.

“Our research showed that practicing exercises that can promote happiness via smartphone picture taking and sharing can lead to increased positive feelings for those who engage in it,” said lead author Yu Chen, a postdoctoral scholar in UCI’s Department of Informatics. “This is particularly useful information for returning college students to be aware of, since they face many sources of pressure.”

These stressors — financial difficulties, being away from home for the first time, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and the rigors of coursework — can negatively impact students’ academic performance and lead to depression.

“The good news is that despite their susceptibility to strain, most college students constantly carry around a mobile device, which can be used for stress relief,” Chen said. “Added to that are many applications and social media tools that make it easy to produce and send images.”

The goal of the study, she said, was to help researchers understand the effects of photo taking on well-being in three areas: self-perception, in which people manipulated positive facial expressions; self-efficacy, in which they did things to make themselves happy; and pro-social, in which people did things to make others happy.

Chen and her colleagues designed and conducted a four-week study involving 41 college students. The subjects — 28 female and 13 male — were instructed to continue their normal day-to-day activities (going to class, doing schoolwork, meeting with friends, etc.) while taking part in the research.

But first each was invited to the informatics lab for an informal interview and to fill out a general questionnaire and consent form. The scientists helped students load a survey app onto their phones to document their moods during the first “control” week of the study. Participants used a different app to take photos and record their emotional states over the following three-week “intervention” phase.

Subjects reported their moods three times a day using the smartphone apps. In evening surveys, they were asked to provide details of any significant events that may have affected their emotions during the course of the day.

The project involved three types of photos to help the researchers determine how smiling, reflecting and giving to others might impact users’ moods. The first was a selfie, to be taken daily while smiling. The second was an image of something that made the photo taker happy. The third was a picture of something the photographer believed would bring happiness to another person (which was then sent to that person). Participants were randomly assigned to take photos of one type.

Researchers collected nearly 2,900 mood measurements during the study and found that subjects in all three groups experienced increased positive moods. Some participants in the selfie group reported becoming more confident and comfortable with their smiling photos over time. The students taking photos of objects that made them happy became more reflective and appreciative. And those who took photos to make others happy became calmer and said that the connection to their friends and family helped relieve stress.

“You see a lot of reports in the media about the negative impacts of technology use, and we look very carefully at these issues here at UCI,” said senior author Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics. “But there have been expanded efforts over the past decade to study what’s become known as ‘positive computing,’ and I think this study shows that sometimes our gadgets can offer benefits to users.”

Abstract of the study:

Background
With the increasing quality of smartphone cameras, taking photos has become ubiquitous. This paper investigates how smartphone photography can be leveraged to help individuals increase their positive affect.

Methods
Applying findings from positive psychology, we designed and conducted a 4-week study with 41 participants. Participants were instructed to take one photo every day in one of the following three conditions: a selfie photo with a smiling expression, a photo of something that would make oneself happy and a photo of something that would make another person happy.

Findings
After 3 weeks, participants’ positive affect in all conditions increased. Those who took photos to make others happy became much less aroused. Qualitative results showed that those in the selfie group observed changes in their smile over time; the group taking photos to improve their own affect became more reflective and those taking photos for others found that connecting with family members and friends helped to relieve stress.

Conclusions
The findings can offer insights for designers to create systems that enhance emotional well-being.

 

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Is that smartphone making students more or less connected with friends and family? Answer: it depends

This study is a bit of fun as it looks at how our smartphones makes us feel connected or disconnected.

Oh, wait, the study was conducted with a specific age group, so it’s rather about how connected their smartphones make students feels.

It’s a pretty straightforward study with less simple results, as gender seems to have an influence:

 

  • Male’s calling, texting and total cell phone use was not related to attachment.
  • Male’s problematic cell phone use was negatively related to attachment.
  • Female’s calling was positively related to parent attachment.
  • Female’s texting was positively related to peer attachment.
  • Female’s problematic cell phone use was negatively related to attachment.

 

So the study suggests that the phone may have more social value for women compared to men, and women may be better at using it to augment or complement existing social relationships.

But sadly enough, the researchers didn’t compare this with non-smartphone usage…

And this insight is also a bit problematic:

“the students in the study who tended to use their cell phones compulsively and at inappropriate times felt less socially connected to parents and peers than other students”

This is a correlation, and we can explain a causal relationship in both directions…

From the press release:

In this digital age, with phones at our finger tips, you would think that access to constant communication would make us feel closer to one another. But a new study by researchers at Kent State University shows that may not be the case. In fact, cell phone use might actually lead to feeling less socially connected, depending on your gender or cell phone habits.

Three researchers, Andrew Lepp, Ph.D., Jacob Barkley, Ph.D., and Jian Li, Ph.D., from Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services surveyed 493 students, ranging in age from 18-29, to see whether cell phone use, including texting and talking, was associated with feeling socially connected to their parents and peers. The results show a significant difference between men and women.

Female students reported spending an average of 365 minutes per day using their cell phones, sending and receiving an average of 265 texts per day, and making and receiving six calls per day.

Male students reported spending less time on their phone (287 minutes), sending and receiving fewer texts (190), and making and receiving the same amount of calls as the female students.

For the women, the study found that talking on the phone was associated with feeling emotionally close with their parents. However, when it came to relationships with friends, texting was associated with feeling emotionally close.

For the men, the opposite holds true – daily calling and texting were not related in any way to feelings of emotional closeness with either parents or with peers.

Researchers also looked at problematic use, which is a recurrent craving to use a cell phone during inappropriate times – such as driving a car, or at night when you should be sleeping. For both the men and women, the study found that problematic cell phone use was negatively related to feelings of emotional closeness with parents and peers.

“In other words, the students in the study who tended to use their cell phones compulsively and at inappropriate times felt less socially connected to parents and peers than other students,” Lepp said.

According to Lepp, the study suggests that the phone may have more social value for women compared to men, and women may be better at using it to augment or complement existing social relationships.

As for problematic use, Lepp says given the cell phone’s many other functions, communicating with one another may no longer be the phone’s central purpose, which could be replacing more meaningful forms of relationship building, such as face-to-face communications for both genders.

Abstract of the study:

College students spend hours each day using their cell phones. A common motivation for this behavior is the maintenance of social relations. Yet depending on cell phone use behavior, cell phone use could potentially strengthen or weaken social relations. We investigated this possibility with a survey (N = 493) assessing students’ perceptions of important social relations (i.e., Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment) and various cell phone use behaviors. The relationship between cell phone use and Parent Attachment was modeled with three regression equations, one for each Parent Attachment subscale (i.e., communication, trust, alienation). These subscales were the criterion variables. Each regression equation contained the same predictor variables: total daily cell phone use, calling, texting, and problematic use. Anxiety and self-esteem were control variables. The relationship between cell phone use and Peer Attachment was modeled similarly. Regression equations were estimated simultaneously using the Seemingly Unrelated Regression technique. For males: calling, texting and total daily use were not related to parent or peer attachment; problematic use was negatively related to parent and peer attachment. For females: calling was positively related to parental attachment and texting to peer attachment; problematic use was negatively related to parent and peer attachment. Implications are discussed.

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Funny on Sunday: what if Bart Simpson and other famous cartoons were hipsters?

Hipsters, those coffee drinking, Macbook using, living subculture icons have been the inspiration for Illustrator Matt Lassen to adapt some famous cartoon characters:

Check more here, but this is my favorite:

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Arab Youth Survey: Inside The Hearts And Minds Of Arab Youth (report, presentation & video)

I’ve noticed that this relevant report isn’t getting much attention. You can download the white paper here. The video and presentation give a summary:

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A bit of a different tune: Time spent playing video games may have positive effects on young children

Quite often when computer games and kids get publicity the news is rather negative. This new study by researchers at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and colleagues at Paris Descartes University has a different ring to it. The researchers assessed the association between the amount of time spent playing video games and children’s mental health and cognitive and social skills, and found that playing video games may have positive effects on young children. Results are published online in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

From the press release and do note what I’ve put in bold and the correlation-nature of the study:

After adjusting for child age, gender, and number of children, the researchers found that high video game usage was associated with a 1.75 times the odds of high intellectual functioning and 1.88 times the odds of high overall school competence. There were no significant associations with any child self-reported or mother- or teacher-reported mental health problems. The researchers also found that more video game playing was associated with less relationship problems with their peers. Based on parent reporting, one in five children played video games more than 5 hours per week.

Results were based on data from the School Children Mental Health Europe project for children ages 6-11. Parents and teachers assessed their child’s mental health in a questionnaire and the children themselves responded to questions through an interactive tool. Teachers evaluated academic success. Factors associated with time spent playing video games included being a boy, being older, and belonging to a medium size family. Having a less educated or single mother decreased time spent playing video games.

“Video game playing is often a collaborative leisure time activity for school-aged children. These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community. We caution against over interpretation, however, as setting limits on screen usage remains and important component of parental responsibility as an overall strategy for student success,” said Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health.

Abstract of the study:

Background: Video games are one of the favourite leisure activities of children; the influence on child health is usually perceived to be negative. The present study assessed the association between the amount of time spent playing video games and children mental health as well as cognitive and social skills.
Methods: Data were drawn from the School Children Mental Health Europe project conducted in six European Union countries (youth ages 6–11, n = 3195). Child mental health was assessed by parents and teachers using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and by children themselves with the Dominic Interactive. Child video game usage was reported by the parents. Teachers evaluated academic functioning. Multivariable logistic regressions were used.
Results: 20 % of the children played video games more than 5 h per week. Factors associated with time spent playing video games included being a boy, being older, and belonging to a medium size family. Having a less educated, single, inactive, or psychologically distressed mother decreased time spent playing video games. Children living in Western European countries were significantly less likely to have high video game usage (9.66 vs 20.49 %) though this was not homogenous. Once adjusted for child age and gender, number of children, mothers age, marital status, education, employment status, psychological distress, and region, high usage was associated with 1.75 times the odds of high intellectual functioning (95 % CI 1.31–2.33), and 1.88 times the odds of high overall school competence (95 % CI 1.44–2.47). Once controlled for high usage predictors, there were no significant associations with any child self-reported or mother- or teacher-reported mental health problems. High usage was associated with decreases in peer relationship problems [OR 0.41 (0.2–0.86) and in prosocial deficits (0.23 (0.07, 0.81)].
Conclusions: Playing video games may have positive effects on young children. Understanding the mechanisms through which video game use may stimulate children should be further investigated.

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New review study on how to fight bullying

Next week we’re having the annual week against bullying in our country, and while in many countries the amount of children being bullied is getting smaller, it’s still an important problem. A new review of research out today outlines roles and recommendations for peers, parents, schools and new media platforms to stop bullying.

From the press release:

This review was published in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS) journal published in partnership with SAGE Publishing.

“The fact that there are so many ways to intervene provides hope for stopping bullying and its negative effects,” wrote study author Dr. Amy Bellmore. “Yet even with a mound of evidence about what may work, we still face many challenges to implementing these changes, as the most effective approaches are likely to require action on many fronts.”

Building on more than 20 years of bullying research, Bellmore constructs a multi-tiered approach to stop bullying, with recommendations for four stakeholders:

Peers Higher levels of bullying are reported in classrooms where victims are not defended by their peers than in classrooms where students intervene on the victims’ behalf. Students can defend victims by sharing their emotional reactions, offering support and helping to shape peaceful alternatives. In addition, students should be informed that adults can help stop bullying only when they see or hear about specific instances. Though students have a role in stopping bullying, the overall process must be instigated and supported by adults within school and at home.

Parents Children that have warm relationships with their parents are less likely to become bullies or victims, compared to children that have neglectful or abusive parents. To help reduce bullying, schools or communities could provide training in relevant parental skills to help facilitate communication about incidents of bullying occurring in schools. Such training may also be effective for parents whose children are not at risk of becoming bullies or being bullied as it could help parents encourage their children to defend their peers.

Schools The school-based anti-bullying programs that have been most successful at reducing bullying and victimization are those that last longer, have more intensive interventions and many components, such as school rules, discipline, playground supervision and parent informational and training meetings. When deciding on whether or not to implement anti-bullying programs, schools should view their efforts to reduce bullying as promoting a positive school climate for all students as focusing on wide-ranging benefits will help motivate schools that are concerned about limited time and resources. Schools should select bullying intervention programs that have evidence of success, implement the programs with caution and evaluate success within their specific context and among their students.

New Media Platforms Law enforcement may not get involved in cyberbullying unless it results in such behavior as harassment and threats and schools are still seeking guidance in determining their level of involvement; however, the public opinion is that companies running social media platforms have some culpability. To ensure the safety of its users, some large social media sites offer resource pages dedicated to bullying, instructions for blocking accounts of bullies and reporting mechanisms for users to report online abuse.

“Bullying is not a harmless rite of passage for children,” continued Bellmore. “Bullying is destructive to youth who experience it directly, to the schools in which it resides, and to the broader public.”

Abstract of the study (open access):

In the last 20 years, public awareness of the problem of bullying has increased to the degree that legislation has been developed to protect youth in all 50 United States. Bullying is clearly harmful to students’ social, psychological, and academic functioning. Researchers are now challenged to prevent or reduce bullying and its negative effects. The potential that key stakeholders—peers, parents, schools, and new media—hold for stopping bullying is reviewed. The evidence from the large body of bullying research offers hope for many ways that stakeholders can produce meaningful reductions in bullying, when provided proper supports for their efforts.

 

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No, it’s not swag or yolo after all: teenagers’ role in language change is overstated

The idea that teenagers have an important influence on our language – with new words popping up every now and then – is not wrong as such, but youngsters are not solely causing language change. A new study by Mary Kohn et al shows that language changes occur throughout a lifetime and not just during the teenage years. In fact, teenagers may not be causing language change the way that we typically think…

From the press release:

If you’re too “basic” to “YOLO” or think that slang is never “on fleek,” fear not: How teenagers speak IRL is not ruining the English language, according to Kansas State University linguistics research.

In fact, teenagers may not be causing language change the way that we typically think, said Mary Kohn, assistant professor of English. Kohn studies language variation and how language changes over time.

Kohn’s latest research found that teenagers are not solely causing language change. Rather, language changes occur throughout a lifetime and not just during the teenage years.

“Our research has shown teens are being dynamic with language, but not necessarily in a consistent way,” Kohn said. “We aren’t eliminating the possibility that teenagers are driving sound change, but we might be grossly overstating the role of teenagers.”

Kohn found there was not a consistent language path that a person took from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Language change is more individualistic and varies for each person, she said.

“Very commonly, people think that teenagers are ruining language because they are texting or using shorthand or slang,” Kohn said. “But our language is constantly developing and changing and becoming what it needs to be for the generation who is speaking it. As a linguist, I find this really exciting because it shows me that our language is alive.”

Kohn used the Frank Porter Graham project, which is a database that followed 67 children from infancy to their early 20s. The database includes audio and interview recordings from nearly every year of the children’s lives and also has recordings of family members, friends and teachers — all valuable information for understanding how language changes as individuals grow up, Kohn said.

Using this database, Kohn studied sound waves — a precise measurement of how people pronounce words. She focused on 20 individuals during four different time periods: fourth grade, eighth grade, 10th grade and post-high school at age 20. Kohn measured pronunciations to see if the participants dramatically changed during the teenage years. Her longitudinal approach offered a before and after look at linguistic pronunciation during the teenage years.

The teenager subgroup did not stand out as a group from the rest of the subgroups, meaning there was nothing special about being a teenager,” Kohn said. “Just because you are a teenager doesn’t mean you will change your language. Perhaps our stereotypes about how teenagers speak are often based on subgroups of teenagers that stand out to us as most distinct. We notice the kids who make bold fashion statements, so we also might notice the kids who are making dramatic linguistic changes.”

Other subgroups experience language change, Kohn said, and she suggests that sources of language change may happen in younger children. Children turn away from adult influence when they get to school, which may be the crucial point when language starts to shift.

During high school, teenagers often explore their own identities and may again choose to change their pronunciations and use language as a part of their identities. When these teens grow up and graduate from college or get a job, they may change their language again to sound more professional and meet the demands of their jobs and pressures of the workplace, Kohn said.

“All languages, throughout history, change as generations grow up and move through life,” Kohn said. “As long as there are people who are living and breathing and speaking, we’re going to invent new words. We’re going to invent new ways of speaking.”

Kohn recently published the research in a monograph, “The way I communicate changes but how I speak don’t.” The research was a collaboration with researchers at North Carolina State University, including Walt Wolfrom, Janneke Van Hofwegen, Charlie Farington and Jennifer Renn.

Read more at http://pads.dukejournals.org/content/99/1

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Worrying times for adolescents

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief with an interesting study on adolescents:

Although worrying is a normal response to an anticipated threat, excessive worry can be problematic. A new article in the British Journal of Health Psychology analyzes the development of worry throughout childhood.

The authors used data from The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a longitudinal population-based cohort study that enrolled pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. Mothers completed self-report questionnaires on their child’s development and health at regular intervals, including on their child’s level of worry and the impact on daily functioning at age 7, 10, and 13.

All reported analyses were conducted on the sample of mothers who completed the questionnaire at all three ages (= 2,227), and the authors took the mothers’ own anxiety levels into account. Mothers reported a peak of worrisome thoughts at age 10. Emotional disruption was highest at 10, and the highest level of interference in daily life was observed at 13, especially for girls. Advanced pubertal status and worry frequency were positively associated for boys at 10 and girls at 13. Advanced puberty at 10 was also associated with overall higher worry frequency and emotional disruption.

The authors conclude that their findings align with existing research on patterns of childhood depression, but note that the generalizability and validity of the results might be restricted by the sole reliance on mothers’ report of child worry.

Abstract of the study:

Objectives
Anxiety is a normal part of childhood and adolescence; however, longitudinal research investigating the development of worrisome thoughts throughout childhood is lacking. This study investigated mothers’ perspectives on their child’s normal development of worry as the cognitive component of anxiety and its impact on child functioning in a longitudinal population-based cohort.

Methods
The data for this study were extracted from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Mothers (N = 2,227) reported on their child’s worry content, frequency, control, emotional disruption, and interference when their child was 7, 10, and 13 years old using the parent component of the Development and Well-being Assessment. At age 10 and 13, pubertal status was assessed using children’s self-report of pubic hair developmental progress.

Results
Mothers reported a peak of worrisome thoughts at 10. Emotional disruption was highest at 10, and the highest level of interference in daily life was observed at 13, especially for girls. Advanced pubertal status and worry frequency were positively associated for boys at 10 and girls at 13. Advanced puberty at 10 was also associated with overall higher worry frequency and emotional disruption.

Conclusions
Findings are discussed within a developmental framework outlining the normal development of worrisome thoughts, associated distress, and interference throughout early adolescence. Increased knowledge of normative worry could be informative to further our understanding of adolescence as a vulnerable period for the development of mental health problems, such as generalized anxiety disorder.

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