Online interaction 'impacting the mood and cognitive function' of young people - Education Matters Magazine
Health and Wellness, Latest News, Online Teaching Tools

Online interaction ‘impacting the mood and cognitive function’ of young people

The potential for being judged online could be affecting the ability of adolescents to concentrate on everyday tasks, a new study by UNSW Sydney researchers has found.

The COVID-19 pandemic and global lockdowns shifted social interactions with peers even further online, especially for young people.

“Much research has been directed at understanding the impact of online interactions on adolescents’ wellbeing and cognitive functioning. But the evidence is mixed, leaving us parents, policymakers and educators at a loss as to whether we should encourage or prevent social media use in our young people,” Dr Susanne Schweizer, a psychologist from UNSW, said.

In a study published in Scientific Reports, Schweizer and her team examined how the threat of being evaluated by others online can affect both the wellbeing and cognition of adolescents.

They constructed a situation that mimicked the threat of being assessed or judged by peers online, a feeling that often follows posting or interacting on social media. Prior to completing an online learning task, participants were asked to record an audio clip introducing themselves. They were then told that their audio clips would be listened to and evaluated by others online.

“Then, during the online learning task, there was a ‘views and comments tracker’ at the bottom of the screen. Participants didn’t know what recordings were being viewed or commented on, nor did they know whether the comments were positive or negative,” Schweizer said.

“This was to make it analogue to what it’s like in real life – when you have to do a task, you can’t track what’s happening online, but you know there will be a level of evaluation.”

The study was completed by 225 people, aged 10-24, who were also asked to rate their anxiety and stress levels at various points throughout the process.

Results revealed that all the participants documented a greater increase in negative mood following social evaluative threat compared to the control condition. The threat of social evaluation also led to reduced accuracy in completing the online task.

“There’s been a 52 per cent increase in time spent online by young people during the pandemic. It’s important now, more than ever, to assess how it impacts learning and wellbeing,” Schweizer said.

“Our research showed that when young people thought that others might be evaluating them, they felt upset and their ability to perform a basic cognitive task was impaired. Assuming these findings reflect the impact of online social evaluation, then these results are concerning.”

More reading

The boy who loves buses: A tale of online safety

Educators commit to closer cooperation for online safety

Send this to a friend