The Winston Center conducts rigorous scientific research focused on the developing mind and brain. Our research seeks to determine when technology is helpful, when it is harmful, and what unique factors shape how teens and adolescents are impacted.

Technology provides unlimited opportunities for social interactions during a critical period when the brain is especially sensitive. The Winston Center uses multi-modal, longitudinal data analysis to investigate changes in teenage brain development associated with technology use. This includes how social media impacts the behavior of teenagers as it relates to body image, depression, and sleep habits.

Research Studies

Child Health Project

CHiP aims to understand the role of technology on children’s academic, psychological, and social lives. We are following children as they develop, longitudinally administering questionnaires that will help us understand how children interact with their peers and how these interactions might be related to their future adjustment. Children will be followed from the 3rd grade until they graduate high school. We are interested in how children’s friendships, peer interactions, mood, family relationships, psychological skills, and feelings about themselves may be related to their technology/social media use, as well as how those relationships affect their future behavior and adjustment. We also use fMRI to understand brain development of these youths as they transition across childhood and adolescence.

Smartphone Wellbeing Study

SWiS investigates college students’ relationships with their smartphones. As digital media delivers a consistent stream of rewarding stimuli, heavy use has the potential to dysregulate neurobiological reward processing systems and result in withdrawal symptoms. Digital withdrawal symptoms may intensify digital media cravings, which could lead to an increased risk for addictive digital media use. The main objective of this project is to characterize neurocognitive digital withdrawal symptoms following a period of digital media abstinence. Brain function and withdrawal symptomatology will be examined before and after a period of digital media abstinence in which participants will surrender their mobile phone overnight and agree to not engage in any screen-time.

SUPER Teen & SUPER Brain: Social Understanding, Peers, Excellence, and Resilience

Adolescents’ worlds are changing fast. We are interested in learning about how adolescents’ social experiences and peers contribute to excellence in school and resilience during stress. Our studies will examine how these factors contribute to both behavior and brain development across several years. We will enroll 500 teens in project SUPER Teen at their school and 125 teens and their families in project SUPER Brain. This project will start when teens are in middle school and follow them through high school graduation. We are interested in learning about adolescents’ social communication, how they get along with their peers, and how this may be related to success in school, coping with stress, and health. We are interested in understanding how adolescents interact with their peers and how this may be related to their adjustment, health risk behaviors, and technology use. We are also interested in learning about how brain development is related to adolescents’ social communication and technology use.

Neuro Teen Transition

Neuro Teen Transition examines technology use and brain development within a large sample of adolescents who have been assessed annually for over four years to date. Research questions include the examination of neural correlates of adolescents’ technology exposure, the study of youths’ decision-making while engaged in technology-mediated social interactions, and individual differences in neural connectivity that may be associated with specific types of technology use.

Technology, Mood, and Risk Behavior

We have enrolled over 800 students (50% non-White) from a rural region in the US Southeast to participate in a multi-wave 6 year longitudinal study.  Our research includes an examination of social-psychological factors that may be associated with adolescents’ tech use, including the time they spend on various tech platforms, the social functions served by tech use, tech-related stressors, and their behaviors when interacting on social media. Our research includes adolescents’ and peers’ own reports as well as observational coding of adolescents’ social media profiles. In addition, this research includes a remote assessment, including ecological-momentary assessment, of tech use during the COVID pandemic to understand adolescents’ daily technology use, and variation in mood, social connection, and engagement in maladaptation.

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