Grant to study effects of trauma, value of social media in recovery

November 15, 2016

Teen girl using computerNicole Nugent, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist from the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center, is leading a new study to better understand the social and biological factors that may promote resilience in teens after a traumatic event. The $3.3-million, 5-year National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) study will be used to develop interventions to help adolescents better recover from trauma.

“Trauma-exposed adolescents are at risk for a host of negative outcomes, including symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorders,” said Nugent. “Although researchers have very generally shown that friends and family, as well as an adolescent’s own biological responses, are important for adjustment after trauma, there is much we still don’t know about the exact timing and types of help that friends and family can provide. In particular, we know very little about how the use of social media may affect a teen’s adjustment after trauma.”

The study will evaluate 200 trauma-exposed adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 who have been medically evaluated in the Hasbro Children’s Hospital emergency department after a traumatic injury, such as a physical assault or a serious vehicular accident. Participants will be asked to wear a watch and carry a phone to track their heart rate, skin conductance and acoustic environment, as well as participate in clinical interviews and stress testing for a follow-up period.

Nugent’s hope is that the study findings will help make clearer recommendations to families about how they can best support their adolescent after trauma, including clearer recommendations about the effects of social media use for adolescents during the first few weeks following trauma.

“This research is the first of its kind that allows us to really understand how social supports play out in the real world over the course of the critical first few weeks after trauma,” said Nugent. “These findings will help us to also develop new interventions that could be provided for families, possibly including interventions that incorporate ways to best harness social media use.”

This research is supported by the National Institutes of Mental Health under Award Number R01MH108641.

Nugent’s principal affiliation is the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center, a division of the Lifespan health system in Rhode Island. She is also an associate professor (research) at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, departments of psychiatry and human behavior and pediatrics.

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