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APA Research Briefs: November 2021

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American Psychological Association. (2021, October 1). APA Research Briefs: November 2021.

During pandemic summer, tweens’ screen time and social media use increased

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents of tweens faced pressure to keep their kids healthy, happy and socially connected in the face of social distancing restrictions. Many parents turned to screens and social media to help, suggests a study published in Psychology of Popular Media. Researchers surveyed 608 parents of nine- to 13-year-old children between July 9 and August 17, 2020, (93% of respondents were mothers and 95% were white). Participants answered questions about their children’s use of screen time, whether they had opened social media accounts for their kids and whether they had purchased any new devices for family use or specifically for their child. Overall, 83.7% of respondents said that their tweens were getting more screen time than before the pandemic, and 19.5% said that they had created a social media account for their child during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic gender divides continued — for example, boys were more likely to play video games and open Discord accounts, and girls were more likely to watch videos and open TikTok accounts. Parents who reported more worry about the pandemic also reported higher amounts of media use for their children. This is consistent with previous research that has found that children who live in less safe neighborhoods spend more time on screens, according to the researchers. In both cases, safety worries that keep children inside led to more screen time. Future research should continue to track tweens’ media use as they adjust to a post-pandemic world, to better understand the implications that increased media use and earlier social media use at this critical age could have on tweens’ lives, according to the researchers.

Article: “Parenting and Tweens’ Media Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” (PDF, 142KB) by Nancy A. Jennings, PhD, University of Cincinnati; and Allison G. Caplovitz, PhD, Technology and Education Consulting Associates, Austin, Texas. Psychology of Popular Media, published online November 29, 2021.

Anxiety occurs more often in those with mild traumatic brain injury

Anxiety symptoms and disorders are present more often in individuals with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), according to a study in Rehabilitation Psychology. Compared with the general population, anxiety is frequent in the first year after such an injury. Researchers studied 120 participants who sustained a mild traumatic brain injury and were hospitalized after an accident, assessing them at four-, eight- and 12-month intervals post-accident. At four months, 23.8% of participants presented with at least one anxiety-related disorder; at eight months, 15.2%; and at 12 months, 11.2%. Overall, 32.5% presented with at least one anxiety disorder over the first 12 months following the injury. Individuals with at least one anxiety disorder prior to the accident were more likely to present with anxiety disorders post-mTBI. The researchers said anxiety seems to exacerbate or prolong mTBI-related symptoms including fatigue, irritability, perceived stress, depressive symptoms, pain, sleep difficulties and cognitive difficulties. They suggested that clinicians monitor anxiety symptoms more systematically in this population and provide preventive or therapeutic interventions accordingly.

Article: “Anxiety Symptoms and Disorders; in the First Year After Sustaining Mild Traumatic Brain Injury,” (PDF, 273KB) by Guillaume Lamontagne, PsyD, Simon Beaulieu-Bonneau, PhD, Danielle Tessier, PsyD, Marie-Christine Ouellet, PhD, Université Laval and U Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en réadaptation et Intégration Sociale (Cirris), Geneviève Belleville, PhD, Université Laval, Guillaume Souesme, PhD, Myriam Giguère, MSc, Cirris, and Josée Savard, PhD, Marie-Josée Sirois, PhD, Natalie Sage, MD, Université Laval and Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Québec. Rehabilitation Psychology, published online November 29, 2021.

‘Thinking positive’ isn’t enough to relieve depression and anxiety

People who try to escape the negative emotions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by thinking positive may not succeed in relieving their depression or anxiety. And trying to escape emotions by hiding them from other people could make them even worse, according to a study published in the journal Emotion. Researchers from The Australian National University used data from three waves of the Australian National COVID-19 Mental Health, Behavior and Risk Communication Survey, which measured Australians’ mental health every few weeks during the acute lockdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, March through June 2020. The researchers surveyed 704 Australian participants about depression, anxiety and emotional regulation strategies during the pandemic, asking questions like, “When I wanted to feel more positive emotion (such as joy or amusement), I changed what I was thinking about.” They found that trying to think differently about the situation had no effect on mental health; participants who used this strategy more did not experience fewer symptoms of depression or anxiety. However, people who reported hiding their emotions more had higher levels of depression and anxiety later in the survey. The research also found this relationship was two-way: People who reported higher levels of depression and anxiety early in the pandemic were more likely to try to hide their emotions later. These findings suggest that people who try to hide their emotions enter a vicious cycle that only increases their depression and anxiety symptoms. Because thinking differently about a situation isn’t always helpful either — especially in a highly stressful situation like the pandemic — the authors suggest further research is needed to develop new ways to help people manage difficult emotions.

Article: “Cause or Symptom? A Longitudinal Test of Bidirectional Relationships Between Emotion Regulation Strategies and Mental Health Symptoms,” (PDF, 472KB) by Amy Dawel, PhD, Yiyun Shou, PhD, Amelia Gulliver, PhD, Nicolas Cherbuin, PhD, Michelle Banfield, PhD, Kristen Murray, PhD, Alison Calear, PhD, Alyssa Morse, PhD, Louise Farrer, PhD, and Michael Smithson, PhD, The Australian National University. Emotion, published online November 29, 2021.

A workday workout can help employees focus

Taking the time for light physical exercise during the workday could improve work performance and focus, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Employees who are motivated to exercise could also feel more focused and competent after a vigorous workout during the workday. In this study, the researchers recruited 74 employees from four organizations who worked more than 32 hours per week, spent more than 20 hours interacting with coworkers and typically had two or more workouts at least 30 minutes long during the workweek. The participants wore a Fitbit activity tracker for five workdays and reported their feelings of competence at work four times during the study, while a coworker chosen by the participant rated the participant’s focus at the end of each workday. The researchers found the participants whose Fitbit activity trackers reported either vigorous or light physical activity during the workday did not lose energy at work. Instead, exercise increased employees’ feelings of competence, which was positively associated with their focus. The researchers also found that a light workout benefited all employees, but those who were motivated to exercise benefited also from a vigorous workout while employees’ who exercised because they felt obligated benefited from a moderate workout. These findings suggest that exercise before or during work can be an effective strategy to improve employees’ performance, but only when the intensity of the workout matches an employee’s desire for exercise.

Article: “Is Physical Activity Before the End of the Workday a Drain or a Gain? Daily Implications on Work Focus in Regular Exercisers,” (PDF, 422KB) by Lieke L. ten Brummelhuis, PhD, Simon Fraser University; Charles Calderwood, PhD, Virginia Tech; Christopher C. Rosen, PhD, University of Arkansas; and Allison S. Gabriel, PhD, University of Arizona. Journal of Applied Psychology, published online November 4, 2021.


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