Pathways Linking Use of Social Media to Teen Outcomes (PLUS-2)


Funded by National Institute of Mental Health K01MH121584 (2020-2025)

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents in the United States. Rates of adolescent suicide have increased in recent years, which has occurred alongside the advent and growth of social media use (SMU) in this population. SMU has been linked with sleep disruption, depressed mood, and suicidal ideation (SI), all of which are precursors of suicidal behavior. However, most studies are correlational and rely on self-reported SMU, which makes it challenging to identify whether SMU contributes to the onset and worsening of suicide risk, or whether those at higher risk for suicide (e.g., those with depression and/or suicidal ideation) simply have more SMU? 

Sleep disruption (i.e., later sleep timing, shorter sleep duration, and poorer sleep quality) may be a key pathway through which SMU contributes to adolescent suicide risk for certain youth. Sleep disruption is a proximal and modifiable risk factor for depression and suicidality, and may contribute to emotional and behavioral dysregulation that heightens risk for suicidal behavior. Identifying for whom and in what contexts SMU contributes to sleep disruption and suicide risk among youth at elevated risk for suicide is critical for prevention.

The PLUS-2 study (ongoing) leverages technology to rigorously examine SMU, sleep, and suicide risk within an intensive prospective design using passive sensing and ecological momentary assessment (EMA), combined with clinical interviews. This study leverages smartphone technology to assess SMU using real-time passive data capture, actigraphy, and ecological momentary assessment (EMA) in high-risk adolescents. This study will inform future research and interventions that use these innovative methods to identify and modify clinically-actionable risk factors, including SMU and sleep disruption, to attenuate near-term risk for adolescent suicide. 

Social Media and Sleep Health Study (SMASH)


The SMASH research study (data analysis) harnesses smartphone technology to rigorously examine social media (SM) use and sleep with real-time passive data capture. Existing smartphone sensors measure movement, light, smartphone activity, and application usage patterns. With the mobile application AWARE (, information from these sensors can be recorded and used to extract information about the duration and timing of SM use and sleep. These data will be combined with self-report daily measures to assess objective and subjective aspects of SM use and sleep with adolescents, and objectively-derived sleep patterns from actigraphy as "ground truth".


Given the novelty of this area, the SMASH study will provide critical information regarding the feasibility and accuracy of using passive sensing to examine SM use and sleep with adolescents. It will also provide preliminary data about the overall and day-today relationships between (objective) SM use and sleep among adolescents. Future research in this area will seek to validate (open-sourced) machine learning algorithms to estimate sleep-wake patterns in adolescents, which will extend the accessibility of this research on a larger-scale and in diverse populations.

Funded by University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research Steven Manners Faculty Development Award  (2019-2020)



Funded by National Institute of Mental Health F31MH106184 (2014-2016)

The Stress and Emotion Study (completed) integrates physiological, affective, and environmental factors to better understand individual differences in risk for depression recurrence among young adults (18-22) with a history of major or subthreshold depression. Participants completed a baseline evaluation of psychophysiological reactivity (via respiratory sinus arrhythmia) to a laboratory-induced stress challenge, as well as daily assessments evaluating life stressors, sleep, and mood over a 14-day period, allowing for idiographic (within-subject) measurement of variations in stress and mood. 

This multi-method, micro-longitudinal study evaluated the relationships among physiological, environmental, and affective processes in vulnerability to depression measured using multiple units of analysis, which has the potential to elucidate the mechanisms through which these vulnerabilities confer risk for depression to better identify individuals at risk and inform novel and personalized prevention and intervention programs for depression.

See primary outcomes paper here: Hamilton & Alloy, 2017.