1. Study examines sleep problems in young people

    October 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the James Cook University press release:

    A collaborative research project involving James Cook University and the University of Queensland indicates high rates of sleep problems continuing through teenage years and into early adulthood — but also suggests a natural remedy.

    Dr. Yaqoot Fatima from JCU’s Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health was associated with a study that tracked more than 3600 people from the age of 14 until they were 21.

    “Just over a quarter of the 14-year-olds reported sleep problems, with more than 40 percent of those still having sleep problems at 21,” said Dr. Fatima.

    She said the causes of sleep problems were different at different ages.

    Maternal factors, such as drug abuse, smoking, depression and anxiety among mothers are the most significant predictors of adolescent sleep problems in their children, at 14-years-old. For all people studied, being female, having experienced early puberty, and being a smoker were the most significant predictors of sleep problems at 21 years.”

    She said adolescent depression or anxiety were linking factors for sleep problems between the two ages.

    “It’s a vicious circle. Depression and anxiety are well-established risk factors for sleep problems and people with sleep problems are often anxious or depressed,” she said.

    Dr. Fatima said that as well as the traditional factors, excessive use of electronic media is emerging as another significant risk.

    “In children and adolescents, it’s found to be strongly associated with later bedtime and shorter sleep duration, increasing the risk of developing sleep disturbances,” she said.

    Dr. Fatima said the study was worrying as it revealed a high incidence of persistent sleep problems and possible concurrent health problems among young people — but it also strongly suggested an answer to the problem.

    “Even allowing for Body Mass Index and other lifestyle factors, we found that an active lifestyle can decrease future incidence and progression of sleep problems in young subjects. So, early exercise intervention with adolescents might provide a good opportunity to prevent their sleep problems persisting into later life.”

    She said the next study being considered would look at what factors lead to young adults’ sleep problems continuing as they grow older and how that might be prevented.


  2. Study suggests earlier school start times may increase risk of adolescent depression and anxiety

    October 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Rochester Medical Center press release:

    Teenagers who start high school before 8:30 a.m. are at higher risk of depression and anxiety, even if they’re doing everything else right to get a good night’s sleep, a recent study out of Rochester, N.Y., suggests.

    Led by University of Rochester Medical Center clinical assistant professor in Psychiatry Jack Peltz, Ph.D., the study, recently published in Sleep Health, not only reinforces the theorized link between sleep and adolescent mental health, but is among the first to demonstrate that school start times may have a critical impact on adolescent sleep and daily functioning. The findings provide additional evidence in the national debate over how school start times impact adolescent health.

    “Our study is consistent with a growing body of research demonstrating the close connection between sleep hygiene and adolescent mental health,” says Peltz, who is also on the faculty of Daemon College in Amherst, N.Y. “But ours is the first to really look at how school start times affect sleep quality, even when a teen is doing everything else right to get a good night’s sleep. While there are other variables that need to be explored, our findings show that earlier school start times seem to put more pressure on the sleep process and increase mental health symptoms, while later school start times appear to be a strong protective factor for teens.”

    Peltz is one of many investigators now exploring ways to address what has become a nationwide sleep epidemic among adolescents. About 90% of high-school-aged adolescents get insufficient sleep on school nights, or barely meet the required amount of sleep (8-10 hours) needed for healthy functioning. School start times, among other interventions (ie. limiting electronic use before bedtime), have become a critical point of interest. The research to date, however, has primarily focused on the academic benefits of delaying school start times for adolescents, rather than examining how earlier start times may disrupt sleep-related processes and affect mental health outcomes, says Peltz.

    “Looking at school start times as a larger contextual variable that may moderate sleep hygiene, sleep quality and adolescent functioning, fills an important gap in the literature,” he says.

    With the help of a grant from the National Sleep Foundation, Peltz’ and his co-authors used an online tool to collect data from 197 students across the country between the ages of 14 and 17. All children and parents completed a baseline survey that included questions about the child’s level of sleep hygiene, family socioeconomic status, their circadian chronotype (roughly, whether you are a “morning person” or “night person”), and their school start times. They were separated into two groups: those who started school before 8:30 a.m. and those who started after 8:30 a.m. (which is currently the recommended start time for high schoolers by the American Academy of Pediatricians).

    Over a period of seven days, the students were instructed to keep a sleep diary, in which they reported specifically on their daily sleep hygiene, levels of sleep quality and duration, and their depressive/anxiety symptoms.

    The results showed that good baseline sleep hygiene was directly associated with lower average daily depressive/anxiety symptoms across all students, and the levels were even lower in students with school start times after 8:30. However, students with good baseline sleep hygiene and earlier school start times had higher average daily depressive/anxiety symptoms.

    “Our results suggest that good sleep hygiene practices are advantageous to students no matter when they go to school,” says Peltz. “Maintaining a consistent bedtime, getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep, limiting caffeine, turning off the TV, cell phone and video games before bed… these efforts will all benefit their quality of sleep and mental health. However, the fact that school start times showed a moderating effect on mental health symptoms, suggests that better sleep hygiene combined with later school start times would yield better outcomes.”

    Peltz says one possible explanation for the difference may be that “earlier starting students” have more pressure on them to get high quality sleep, or there may be other aspects of the school environment that vary by start time that may trigger their depression/anxiety symptoms. Peltz says there may be other lifestyle changes that coincide with earlier start times as well (for example, morning nutrition or exercise) that require closer scrutiny.

    “More studies are definitely needed, but our results help clarify the somewhat mixed findings with other sleep hygiene-focused interventions, by suggesting that school start times may be a very important contextual factor,” he says.

    Peltz hopes the evolving evidence in this area will help propel more concrete national sleep hygiene recommendations for children and teens, similar to what the American Dental Association recommends for oral health.

    “If we don’t sleep, eventually we will die…our brains will cease to function,” he says. “At the end of the day, sleep is fundamental to our survival. But if you have to cram for a test or have an important paper due, it’s one of the first things to go by the wayside, although that shouldn’t be.”


  3. Study suggests doing homework is associated with change in students’ personality

    October 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Universität Tübingen press release:

    Homework may have a positive influence on students’ conscientiousness. As results of a study conducted by University of Tübingen researchers suggest, students who do more homework than their peers show positive changes in conscientiousness. Thus, schools may be doing more than contributing to students’ learning, but they may also be effecting changes of their students’ personality. The study results were published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

    Previous research finds that homework effort is consistently related to student achievement. Also, conscientiousness appears to be the most important personality trait for predicting homework effort. With this connection in mind, proponents of homework have argued that the effort which students invest in their homework may have positive effects on students by influencing their conscientiousness. In their study, the Tübingen scientists investigated whether this claim holds true.

    They analyzed data from a longitudinal study with 2,760 students from two different school tracks in the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Saxony. Students were initially assessed right after their transition from primary to secondary school in Grade 5. For the next three years, students were assessed annually between six and eight weeks after the start of each school year. They answered questions such as how many of their last 10 homework assignments in mathematics and German they did as well as possible. Also, they were asked how conscientious they thought they were including whether they would describe themselves as tidy or rather as messy and negligent. In addition to students’ self-reports, parents were asked to assess their children’s conscientiousness as well.

    Results show that those students who invested a lot of effort in their homework between Grades 5 and 8 also profited in terms of their conscientiousness. Previous research has shown that conscientiousness tends to undergo a temporary dip in late childhood and early adolescence. As the results found by the Tübingen scientists suggest, doing your homework thoroughly and meticulously appeared to counterbalance this dip. Indeed, researchers found a substantial decrease in conscientiousness for students who reported that they had not made an effort with their homework. Those results were also backed by parents, whose reports matched those of their children.

    “Our results show that homework is not only relevant for school performance, but also for personality development — provided that students put a lot of effort into their assignments,” says Richard Göllner, first author of the study. “The question whether doing your homework can also influence the development of conscientiousness has been mostly neglected in previous discussions of the role of homework,” criticizes Ulrich Trautwein, director of the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology. “We need to define more precisely what expectations we have of the potential of homework and how those expectations can be fulfilled.”


  4. Study suggests teens’ online friendships just as meaningful as face-to-face ones

    October 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California, Irvine press release:

    Many parents worry about how much time teenagers spend texting, sharing selfies and engaging in other online activities with their friends. However, according to a recent research synthesis from the University of California, Irvine, many of these digital behaviors serve the same purpose and encompass the same core qualities as face-to-face relationships.

    “Increased peer interaction in cyberspace has led to growing concern that today’s adolescent friendships are now less intimate and an inadequate substitute for those back in the day that took place in person,” said Stephanie Reich, UCI associate professor of education and co-author of the study. “Many contacts between adolescents are mediated through technology and can provide additional opportunities for friends to spend time together, share thoughts and display affection than in offline spaces alone.”

    Reich, along with Ph.D. student and lead author Joanna Yau, identified six core characteristics of offline friendships — self-disclosure, validation, companionship, instrumental support, conflict and conflict resolution — and their digital parallels. For each quality, they noted ways in which online interfaces corresponded with or differed from in-person communication. The results are detailed in the May issue of Adolescent Research Review.

    Reich and Yau found that digital exchanges offer more benefits in some areas and carry increased risks in others. On the plus side, online contact enhances companionship between friends via conversations that can continue throughout the day and night without disrupting others, and it also allows more time to control emotions and calm down before crafting and sending a response to something upsetting. Conversely, friendships can be damaged by gossip and rumors, which spread much faster and farther through cyberspace.

    “Digital communication may increase the ramifications of conduct due to the permanence of information and the speed by which it travels, but at the core, friendships seem to have the same key characteristics,” Reich said. “The majority of adolescents interact electronically most often with individuals they consider friends offline. So rather than reducing intimacy in these relationships, technology-mediated communication may provide additional benefits to teens as connections occur both face-to-face and online.”


  5. Study suggests binge drinking in college may lower chances of landing a job after college

    October 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Friends of Tel Aviv University press release:

    Heavy drinking six times a month reduces the probability that a new college graduate will land a job by 10 percent, according to Tel Aviv University and Cornell University research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

    Previous studies were unable to determine the precise effect of alcohol consumption on first-time employment. But according to the new study, each individual episode of student binge-drinking during a month-long period lowers the odds of attaining full-time employment upon graduation by 1.4 percent.

    “The manner in which students drink appears to be more influential than how much they drink when it comes to predicting the likelihood of getting a job upon graduation,” says Prof. Peter Bamberger of TAU’s Coller School of Business Management and Cornell University, who co-authored the study with Prof. Samuel Bacharach of Cornell University; Prof. Mary Larimer and Prof. Irene Geisner, both of the University of Washington; Jacklyn Koopmann of Auburn University; Prof. Inbal Nahum-Shani of the University of Michigan; and Prof. Mo Wang of the University of Florida.

    “Binge-drinking” is defined as ingesting four or more alcoholic drinks within two hours by a woman and five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours by a man, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

    How often, not how much

    The research found that a non-binge pattern of drinking does not adversely impact job search results unless and until their drinking reaches binge levels.

    Data for the study was provided by 827 individuals who graduated in 2014, 2015, and 2016 from Cornell, the University of Washington, the University of Florida, and the University of Michigan.

    “A student who binge-drinks four times a month has a 6 percent lower probability of finding a job than a student who does not engage in similar drinking habits. Those students who drank heavily six times a month increased their unemployment probability to 10 percent,” says Prof. Bamberger.

    Funded by a $2.2 million grant from the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, the research is the first installment of a longitudinal study on how alcohol misuse affects the college-to-work transition. More than 16,000 individuals have been contacted as part of the five-year study.

    “This paper is consistent with the recent emphasis on the impact of drinking behavior on career transition from Cornell’s Smithers Institute,” said Prof. Bacharach. “It is in concert with the previous work we’ve done on retirement, and on-boarding [the entry and socialization of newcomers into an organization]. Most importantly, it is also consistent with the Smithers Institute’s continued programmatic interest in substance abuse not only in the workplace, but in the college community as well.”


  6. British study suggests significant incidence of depression in 14-year-old girls

    September 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    New research shows a quarter of girls (24%) and one in 10 boys (9%) are depressed at age 14.

    Researchers from the University of Liverpool and University College London analysed information on more than 10,000 children born in 2000-01 who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study.

    At ages 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14, parents reported on their children’s mental health. Then, when they reached 14, the children were themselves asked questions about their depressive symptoms.

    Based on the 14-year-olds reporting of their emotional problems, 24 per cent of girls and 9 per cent of boys suffer from depression.

    Family income

    The research, published with the National Children’s Bureau, also investigated links between depressive symptoms and family income. Generally, 14-year-olds from better-off families were less likely to have high levels of depressive symptoms compared to their peers from poorer homes.

    Parents’ reports of emotional problems were roughly the same for boys and girls throughout childhood, increasing from 7 per cent of children at age 7 to 12 per cent at age 11. However, by the time they reached early adolescence at age 14, emotional problems became more prevalent in girls, with 18 per cent having symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared to 12 per cent of boys.

    Behaviour problems, such as acting out, fighting and being rebellious decreased from infancy to age 5, but then increased to age 14. Boys were more likely than girls to have behaviour problems throughout childhood and early adolescence.

    As 14-year-olds’ own reports of their emotional problems were different to their parents’, this research highlights the importance of considering young people’s views on their own mental health.

    ‘Worryingly high’

    The lead author, Dr Praveetha Patalay from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, said: “In recent years, there has been a growing policy focus on children’s mental health. However, there has been a lack of nationally representative estimates of mental health problems for this generation.

    “In other research, we’ve highlighted the increasing mental health difficulties faced by girls today compared to previous generations and this study further highlights the worryingly high rates of depression.”

    Professor Emla Fitzsimons, Director of the Millennium Cohort Study, said: “These stark findings provide evidence that mental health problems among girls rise sharply as they enter adolescence; and, while further research using this rich data is needed to understand the causes and consequences of this, this study highlights the extent of mental health problems among young adolescents in the UK today.”

    ‘Crisis point’

    Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: “This study of thousands of children gives us the most compelling evidence available about the extent of mental ill-health among children in the UK. With a quarter of 14-year-old girls showing signs of depression, it’s now beyond doubt that this problem is reaching crisis point.

    “Worryingly there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs. Conversely, parents may be picking up on symptoms in their sons, which boys don’t report themselves. It’s vital that both children and their parents can make their voices heard to maximise the chances of early identification and access to specialist support.

    “The new research also suggests that signs of depression are generally more common among children from poorer families. We know that mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum and as the government prepares to publish its plans to improve children’s wellbeing, it must address the overlap with other aspects of disadvantage.”


  7. Study looks at teens’ sleeping patterns and habitual “jet-lag”

    September 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Örebro University press release:

    A lack of sleep is associated with more absence and teens turn up jet lagged to school on Mondays, as shown in a doctoral thesis by sleep researcher Serena Bauducco, at Örebro University, Sweden.

    “My research is about understanding young people’s sleeping patterns and what factors are linked to these. I am interested in why so many young people do not get enough sleep and what can be done about it,” says Serena Bauducco, linked to the School of Law, Psychology and Social Work at Örebro University.

    She has now presented her thesis showing that for teens who do not get enough sleep, their mental well-being is affected. Their sleep routines are not as good and they are more stressed and worried about school than those who get the sleep they need. These young people also bring their mobile phone or computer to bed to a greater extent than others.

    In her thesis, Serena Bauducco also shows that problems with sleep are directly linked to a higher degree of absence from school.

    “Those teens that showed symptoms of difficulties sleeping had three times as much absence than those who did not. That is quite a lot.”

    “We also checked other things that may be related to a high level of absence — for example bullying, depression and anxiety. But the correlation between difficulties sleeping and why they did not go to school was very clear.”

    Her thesis is based on a study of approximately 2,700 upper secondary school pupils, aged 13-16. The study shows that teens sleep longer at weekends. And because they go to bed later and wake up later, they turn up for school with a changed sleeping cycle. In other words — they suffer from jet lag.

    “As a result, they may be tired and grumpy at school. Studies show that not getting enough sleep may affect learning,” says Serena Bauducco.

    For some, it may take three to four days to get back into routine — and by then, the school week is nearly over. But for the large majority, the weekend-related jet lag is not a big deal. Almost all teens in the study did suffer from jet lag, but a majority of them did get enough sleep during the week.

    “Nevertheless, it was still 20 per cent of those taking part in the study that on the whole did not get enough sleep,” says Serena Bauducco.

    As children approach adolescence, they develop later evening habits and it takes them longer to get to sleep once they have gone to bed. This is a natural part of their development, but it can obviously still be difficult to manage.

    Serena Bauducco and her research colleagues therefore set up a programme with upper secondary school pupils in Örebro. The aim was to help the teens to create routines for themselves to get good sleep. It included simple things like not bringing their mobile phone into bed with them, and not sending or responding to text messages after 10 o’clock at night. But it also emphasised the importance of planning their time to make room for both school, spare time — and sleep.

    “One outcome was that those who had previously got the least sleep, improved their sleeping routines. They were less stressed and slept better.”

    So can you draw the conclusion that those teens who do not sleep very well, also find school work difficult?

    “It is not something that we have looked at, but there are other studies that point to that.”

    There are schools in Sweden that have introduced later school start times to adjust to teenagers’ biological rhythm. Some researchers say that sleeping in may lead to pupils performing better at school.

    Serena Bauducco thinks this is an interesting development.

    “A later start to the school day would lead to so many other things; staff have to change their working hours, bus time tables need changing and so on. I still think it is worth a try, as long as you also evaluate the effects of such structural change.”


  8. Study suggests teens’ ability to consider the intentions of others linked to structural changes in the brain

    September 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Dartmouth College press release:

    When it comes to the concept of fairness, teenagers’ ability to consider the intentions of others appears to be linked to structural changes underway in the brain, according to a Dartmouth-led study published by Scientific Reports. The study is the first to provide evidence linking structural changes with behavioral changes within this context. (See video: https://youtu.be/uLv5da5wvus.) Understanding the intentions of others is fundamental to human cooperation and how we exist as social beings.

    Understanding the intentions of others is fundamental to human cooperation and how we exist as social beings. Previous studies have demonstrated that certain areas of the social brain relating to how we care about others or “social inference,” continue to undergo cortical development until late adolescence. As demonstrated by the following time-lapse video, these changes include the thinning of the brain’s cortex, which likely reflect synaptic reorganization in how brain regions are connected and communicate with each other. The study is the first to provide evidence linking structural changes with behavioral changes in the brain within the context of fairness concerns.

    For the study, participants between nine and 23-years old took part in an ultimatum game based on the exchange of money. Proposers first selected between two different divisions of $10, and responders then decided whether to accept or reject the chosen division. Researchers evaluated how participants used two different cognitive strategies when making their decision using computational modeling, and then investigated how these processes correlated with measurements of participants’ cortical thickness, as obtained through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

    Younger players tended to want to minimize the difference in the division of the money, whereby everyone gets the same amount but as players became older, they were more inclined to consider the other player’s intentions. This shift from a simple rule-based egalitarian strategy to a more sophisticated strategy that considers both the other player’s intentions and notions of reciprocity, was observed during late adolescence. This gradual shift coincided with cortical thinning in the brain, specifically, in areas of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which is involved with how we view others’ mental states, and posterior temporal cortex, which is involved in visual perception particularly in processing facial information.

    “This work provides converging evidence in line with other research that the computation of inferring intentions is processed in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex,” said senior author Luke Chang, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the director of the Computational Social Affective Neuroscience Laboratory (Cosan Lab) at Dartmouth. “We were surprised that this shift in preference for considering others’ intentions occurred so late in development. Of course, younger children can infer the intentions of others, but we see that this ability continues to be refined well into late adolescence. This finding has potential implications regarding how much autonomy this age group should be given when making important social and ethical decisions, such as purchasing weapons, going to war, and serving on juries,” added Chang.


  9. Close friendships in high school predict improvements in mental health in young adulthood

    September 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Adolescence is a time of social challenges and changing expectations. While relationships with peers may be important for youth at this time, do they also have implications over time? A new longitudinal study suggests that the types of peer relationships youth make in high school matter for mental health through young adulthood. The study, authored by researchers at the University of Virginia, is published in the journal Child Development.

    “Our research found that the quality of friendships during adolescence may directly predict aspects of long-term mental and emotional health,” according to Rachel K. Narr, PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia, who led the study. “High school students with higher-quality best friendships tended to improve in several aspects of mental health over time, while teens who were popular among their peers during high school may be more prone to social anxiety later in life.”

    The study looked at a community sample of 169 adolescents over 10 years, from the time they were age 15 to when they were 25. The youth were racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse, with 58% Caucasian, 29% African American, and 8% of mixed race/ethnicity, and with median family income $40,000 to $59,999. Adolescents were assessed annually, answering questions about who their closest friends were, reporting on their friendships, and participating in interviews and assessments exploring such feelings as anxiety, social acceptance, self-worth, and symptoms of depression; teens’ close friends also reported on their friendships and were interviewed.

    High-quality friendships were defined as close friendships with a degree of attachment and support, and those that allow for intimate exchanges. Friendship quality was determined from reports by participants’ best friends at age 15. Popularity was defined as the number of peers in the teens’ grade who ranked them as someone they would like to spend time with, and was measured using nominations from all the teens.

    Researchers found that teens who prioritized close friendships at age 15 had lower social anxiety, an increased sense of self-worth, and fewer symptoms of depression by the time they reached age 25 than their peers. Conversely, teens who were broadly sought after in high school — that is, those who were popular among their peers — had higher levels of social anxiety as young adults.

    Neither having a strong best friendship nor being more popular predicted short-term changes in mental health, the researchers note. These differences only became apparent later and they appeared regardless of youth’s experiences in the interim.

    The study’s conclusion: Experiencing strong, intimate friendships during adolescence may help promote long-term mental health. The researchers suggest that this may be because positive experiences with friends help bolster positive feelings about oneself during a stage of life when personal identity is being developed. Also, close friendships may set adolescents on a trajectory to expect and therefore encourage supportive experiences in the future.

    The study also determined that there was a low relation between teens having high-quality friendships and being more sought after by their peers, suggesting that although some teens manage both popularity and close friendship well, and attract both due to similar characteristics, for the most part, these two types of social success are due to different personal attributes.

    “Our study affirms that forming strong close friendships is likely one of the most critical pieces of the teenage social experience,” explains Joseph Allen, Hugh P. Kelly Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, who coauthored the study. “Being well-liked by a large group of people cannot take the place of forging deep, supportive friendships. And these experiences stay with us, over and above what happens later. As technology makes it increasingly easy to build a social network of superficial friends, focusing time and attention on cultivating close connections with a few individuals should be a priority.”


  10. Study suggests way of dealing with exam stress

    September 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Royal Holloway London press release:

    New research from Royal Holloway, University of London, published in Cognition and Emotion suggests that adopting a ‘this too shall pass’ attitude and mentally projecting themselves into the future could help teenagers deal with stressful situations.

    With results day looming, stressed teens should imagine themselves several years in the future. Such mental projection could help teens deal with stress, reminding them that no matter what happens, their current situation is only temporary.

    The power of mental time travel

    “Our research suggests that telling young people to picture themselves far into the future, where a stressful situation like results day is long gone, is an effective way to help them cope. Much like an adult in a traffic jam, or being forced to sit through a meeting they’d rather not be in, imagining a point after the situation is over can be an effective stress reliever,” said Dr Catherine Sebastian from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway.

    “We had thought that adolescents may be less able to control their emotions using this strategy, either because they have less experience with stressful situations, or because they have less of an idea of what their future will look like,” explains Dr Saz Ahmed, also from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway.

    “However, our findings show that this assumption is wrong,” continues Dr Sebastian. “When you ask teens to think about an issue in the long term, they are more than capable of looking at a problem in context – as a small part of their lives. Their current situation may be stressful but with a little guidance they are able to see the blue skies beyond the storm.”

    Looking forward, not back

    The researchers asked young people aged 12-22 to think about a set of specific scenarios. Some were negative, like failing an exam, and some were neutral, like a room being painted. When thinking about the negative scenarios, adolescents were more effective at reducing their stress levels when looking into the distant future (between one and ten years) than when looking into the near future (days, weeks or months), or just reacting naturally. Those who chose to project themselves further ahead in time seemed to be more successful in reducing their distress, suggesting that the length of time chosen is important – it’s not just a case of simply distracting yourself from the present moment.

    “We have known for a long time that distancing – mentally placing yourself further away from a situation that you’re in – works for adults as a coping strategy for stress, but what we’ve now shown is that this also works for young people,” explained Dr Ahmed. “Next, we are interested in understanding more about adolescents who may be less effective in managing strong emotions, for example those who react aggressively to frustrations and setbacks..”