A collaboration between King’s College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), this project explores adolescents’ online experiences and their relationship to changes in mental health.
Research highlights adolescent digital engagement either as a mental health risk or as a source of support or resilience. However, the ways in which digital engagement has its effects during adolescence, either positive or negative, remain poorly understood.
Many questions remain. Do different mental health conditions lead to different patterns of digital engagement or exposure to risks or benefits? What aspects of digital engagement contribute to different mental health outcomes?
To address these issues, in DIORA we research young people with two different mental health conditions, self-harm and eating disorders, to identify the potential negative and positive effects of digital engagement.
“The popular media is full of claims about the way adolescents use the internet and how this impacts their mental health, seemingly backed up by research evidence. However, a lot of that evidence is cross-sectional in nature which means that we can’t say whether it is the internet use that drives mental health or mental health states that drive internet use. This makes sensible intervention to improve mental health impossible. DIORA will answer this vital question!” – Prof Edmund Sonuga-Barke
“It is time to understand the role played by “digital engagement” in the emotional lives and mental health of adolescents, so that policymakers and practitioners can tailor their support effectively. Our project will pay close attention to the interplay between mood and digital activities among young people struggling with eating disorders and self-harm. Does going online help or hinder – and when and why? We aim to find out.” – Prof Sonia Livingstone
- Do adolescents’ digital and non-digital activities/experiences impact on their mental health over a 6-month period and/or vice versa?
- Are these effects mediated by their short-term impacts on psychological and emotional states?
- Are these relationships moderated by adolescents’ personal characteristics or circumstances?
- Do these processes and effects differ for digital and non-digital (face-to-face) experiences?
We will conduct an intensive longitudinal study across a 6-month period involving adolescents with different mental health problems (e.g. experiences of self-harm or eating disorders), as well as adolescents who do not have mental health difficulties. DIORA combines a mix of qualitative and quantitative approaches.
Detailed data on psychological and emotional states, digital engagement and offline activies will be collected digitally over a six month period. Mental health will be assessed at regular intervals via self- and parent-report questionnaires completed online. We will also conduct qualitative interviews to get a detailed account of adolescents’ own understanding of their digital engagement, how they are affected by it and how they use digital technologies for the self-management of their mental health.
The data analyses will chart patterns of digital engagement and examine how the pathways to protective or risky environments relate to patterns of psychological and emotional states, triangulating between qualitative and quantitative data.
DIORA was preceded by a pilot project on Adolescent mental health and development in the digital world involving a multi-stakeholder qualitative study on the risks and benefits of digital technology use.
- Kostyrka-Allchorne, K., Stoilova, M., Bourgaize, J., Rahali, M., Livingstone, S. & Sonuga-Barke, E. (2022) Review: digital experiences and their impact on the lives of adolescents with pre-existing anxiety, depression, eating and nonsuicidal self-injury conditions – a systematic review. Child and Adolescent Mental Health. DOI: 10.1111/camh.12619
- A report from the pilot project: Stoilova, M., Edwards, C., Kostyrka-Allchorne, K., Livingstone, S., & Sonuga-Barke, E. (2021). Adolescents’ mental health vulnerabilities and the experience and impact of digital technologies: A multimethod pilot study. London School of Economics and Political Science and King’s College London, London, UK. DOI: 10.18742/pub01-073
- Kostyrka-Allchorne, K, Bourgaize, J., Livingstone, S., Rahali, M., Stoilova, M. and Sonuga-Barke, E. (2022). Differentiating digital experiences, and their impact, in the lives of adolescents with different types of emotional disorders: a systematic review of the evidence. PROSPERO 2022 CRD42022318672
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Edmund Sonuga-Barke is Professor of Developmental Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London. Inspired by his own childhood experiences his research focuses on understanding neuro-developmental disorders and their mental health consequences across the life span. To this end, he employs basic developmental science approaches to study the pathogenesis of such conditions, their underlying genetic and environmental risk and resilience sources and their mediating brain mechanisms. Professor Sonuga-Barke was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (2016), a Fellow of the British Academy (2018), amongst the ‘most influential scientific minds’ in psychology and psychiatry by Clarivate (2018) and an Honorary Professor at Aarhus University, Denmark (2019).
Sonia Livingstone DPhil (Oxon), FBA, FBPS, FAcSS, FRSA, OBE is a professor in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has published 20 books including “The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age” and Parenting for a Digital Future (July 2020). She directs the projects “Children’s Data and Privacy Online,” “Global Kids Online” (with UNICEF) and “Parenting for a Digital Future”, and she is Deputy Director of the UKRI-funded “Nurture Network.” Since founding the 33 country EU Kids Online network, Sonia has advised the UK government, European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Europe, OECD and ITU.
Sonia tweets @Livingstone_S
Dr Jake Bourgaize is a Research Associate at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London and a Senior Research Officer at the Centre for Brain Science, The University of Essex. Jake’s research focuses on how individuals perceive food given various factors (such as how much the individual likes the food they are looking at, or if they have an eating disorder). This also includes how an individual’s brain activity changes in line with their eating behaviours. His other research interests include student motivation while completing classwork and digital software solutions that can assist in the day-to-day lives of those living with visual field loss.
Dr Kasia Kostyrka-Allchorne is a Research Fellow in the ExPAND research group, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London. Kasia’s research broadly concerns risks and opportunities created by access to digital technology within the context of family and child and adolescent mental health. This includes developing evidence-based parenting interventions that use mobile phone technology to provide low-cost and scalable support for parents of young children both in the community and within children’s health services. She is also interested in examining the mechanisms that underpin the associations between childhood and adolescent mental health difficulties and digital engagement.
Kasia tweets @kasiakostyrka
Dr Mariya Stoilova holds a postdoctoral research position at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). With a strong focus on multi-method evidence generation and cross-national comparative analyses, her work focuses on the intersection of child rights and digital technology use, well-being and family support, and intimate life, citizenship and social inequalities.
Mariya tweets @Mariya_Stoilova
Eliz Azeri is a BSc Psychology undergraduate student at King’s College London, on a work placement year before her last year at university. Eliz is particularly interested in the myriad of factors affecting young peoples’ mental health, especially within the fast-paced climate of newly emerging digital technologies. She is also interested in how the combined effects of different environmental factors and genetic vulnerabilities influences young peoples’ mental health to varying degrees.
The project is funded within UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Digital Youth Programme. It is led by the University of Nottingham (Prof Chris Hollis and Prof Ellen Townsend) with partners at King’s College London, LSE and Bath University, Glasgow University, Open University, Oxford University, University College London, University of Auckland (New Zealand) and UKRI Emerging Minds Network.
We acknowledge the support of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Digital Youth Programme award (MRC project reference MR/W002450/1) which is part of the AHRC/ESRC/MRC Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind programme.