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Online interaction can impact mood, concentration of young people: study

Sydney, Australia | Xinhua | A new research led by the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney) has found that being judged online can negatively affect the mood and cognitive functioning of adolescents.

The study, published in the Scientific Reports journal in December 2022, examined the impacts by having 225 participants, aged 11-30 years, complete a learning task under online social evaluative threat and a perceptually-matched control condition.

Before conducting the 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.

“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,” Susanne Schweizer, co-author and psychologist from UNSW Sydney, said on Tuesday.

“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,” she added.

According to the study, all the participants reported a greater increase in negative mood, following social evaluative threat compared to the control condition, while the threat of social evaluation also led to reduced accuracy in completing the online task.

Schweizer pointed out that there has been a 52-percent increase in time spent online by young people during the pandemic.

“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,” said the expert.

Schweizer also noted that many questions still remain to be answered and require further research.

“We can’t just keep looking at the impact of time spent online. It doesn’t seem to be capturing those individual differences, which are still unclear,” she said, calling for more experimental work to study the issue in detail.

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