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The Mechanisms Linking Social Media Use to Mental Health

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Abstract: Adolescent mental health has declined substantially in the last decade (Sadler et. al, 2018), stretching health services and making the area a medical research priority. Concurrently, widespread digital innovation has radically altered child and adolescent behaviour (91% of 12-15 year-olds now own a smartphone). This has spurred pervasive concern that digitalisation and social media use might be decreasing adolescent mental health and well-being. Previous research has addressed these concerns by quantifying the relationship between social media use and adolescent mental health and well-being in large-scale samples, finding that the links are negative and bidirectional but very small in size when averaged across a whole population (Orben and Przybylski 2019, Nature Human Behaviour). This talk will focus on a recent piece of work which found evidence of developmental windows of sensitivity to the negative impact of social media use, which occur earlier in adolescence for girls in comparison to boys (Orben et al. 2022,Nature Communications). This finding raises a translationally promising possibility that pubertal and/or neurocognitive developments exacerbate the impact of social media use on mental health.

Biograph: Dr Amy Orben is a Programme Leader Track Scientist at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, and a College Research Fellow at Emmanuel College. She leads a research group investigating the links between digital technology use, mental health and cognition in adolescence. Alongside her research, Dr Orben campaigns for the adoption of more transparent and open scientific practices. Before joining the University of Cambridge, Dr Orben completed a DPhil in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, for which she was awarded the British Psychological Society Award for Outstanding Contributions to Doctoral Research, and an MA in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge. For more information on Dr Orben, please visit: https://www.amyorben.com/

This talk is part of the Department of Psychiatry & CPFT Thursday Lunchtime Seminar Series series.

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