Peer Power Up! How peers get under the skin of adolescents

Researchers from Tilburg University, TNO and Twente University collaborate on setting up a study on the effects of peer relationships on adolescents' mental and physical well-being using a biopsychosocial perspective. The study will provide a deeper understanding of how the social environment contributes to adolescents’ social development and well-being, and is funded by a grant of the ‘Dutch national research agenda’ (NWO).

Influence of previous peer experiences on social situations

The project team is specifically interested in how adolescents (14-15 years), with varying social experiences with their peers, perceive and process social situations. It is posed that repeated exposure to traumatic negative social events (e.g., peer victimization) may alter psychophysiological responses to future social stressors. For instance, initial evidence suggests that adolescents with a history of peer victimization show altered or dysregulated physiological responses (e.g., inflammatory and sympathetic nervous system responses) to acute laboratory social stressors (Iffland et al., 2014; Giletta et al., 2018), which may pose risk for mental and physical health problems.

Two phases of research

The study will examine whether and how peer experiences are related to emotional and physiological responses assessed in daily life (phase I) and during a laboratory social task (phase II).

Phase I: experience sampling study

During the first phase, the data collection will involve an experience sampling study, over the course of one week, during which emotional and physiological responses, including heart rate and skin conductance, will be assessed in daily life.

The EdaMove is used to measure skin conductance and the Wahoo Tickr to measure heart rate.

Phase II: standardized laboratory task

The first phase is followed by a standardized laboratory task during which participants take part in a social role play. During this task, participants will introduce themselves to a peer panel. In response to the standardized social task, electrocardiography, skin conductance, as well as immune system responses will be assessed.

Dutch national research agenda 

The study is funded by the ‘startimpuls’ project of the Dutch national research agenda (Nationale Wetenschapsagenda; NWA). Within the ‘startimpuls’ project, researchers from multiple universities in the Netherlands collaborate to examine how adolescents gain new skills, cope with challenges of modern society, and how they make their way to adulthood in a successful manner.

Project team

The project team consists of Matteo Giletta (Tilburg University), Lisa Schreuders (Tilburg University), Anne-Marie Brouwer (TNO), Jan van Erp (TNO) and Natty Thammasan (Twente University).

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