Stress and Resilience in Everyday Lives of Adolescence

Adolescents face many novel challenges and stressors—piling loads of tests and exams in school, occasions of peer rejection and victimization both offline and online, or frequent conflicts with parents and teachers. In the face of these pressing demands, how do young people make sense of these so-called “stressful” events and respond in their day-to-day lives? Why are some more resilient than others?

Using ecological momentary event sampling and hormone sampling methods, my work identifies contemporary sources of stressful experiences, and track psychological and physiological stress responses in the face of acute or naturalistic social challenges. In the long term, this line of work seeks to explore how teens and emerging adults develop psychological resilience in everyday social contexts; and also how wise interventions can promote more adaptive affective and behavioral responses at critical developmental phases.

Some representative papers are:

Mindsets and Lay Theory Interventions for School-based SEL Programs

Adolescence is a developmental period that is characterized by a heightened sensitivity to social status. Yet developmentally salient status motives and their behavioral ramifications could be driven by their underlying lay theories about the social world–their mindsets. Working toward an integrative model of adolescent sensitivity to social status, my work asks whether adolescents’ mindsets and lay theories about the social world impact how they navigate their social milieu and pursue social status in different ways. My findings suggest that adolescents with an entity theory of personality are more likely to view social status as a fixed label about a person (e.g., a winner vs. a loser; the populars vs. the unpopulars); and are more willing to use relational aggression to demonstrate superior status.

To reduce maladaptive pursuits of social status and toxic stress about status competition, my work develops and tests school-based social emotional learning (SEL) programs–namely, a Growth Mindset of Personality intervention–to teach adolescents more malleable views about human social traits. Doing so improved adolescents’ hormonal stress responses and daily stress appraisals. In more recent study, I work with my mentors and collaborators to further explore whether heterogeneous school contexts, parenting contexts and collective peer norms can meaningfully alter the long-term effectiveness of such mindset interventions through divergent socialization processes.

Some representative papers are:

Technology, Social Media, and Digital Social Emotional Development

The recent cohorts of adolescents are “digital natives“–They spend increasingly more minutes and hours on social media and other emerging digital platforms to connect with others. What psychological impact does this current landscape of “digital experience” have on young people’s minds? How can their social development and mental health trajectories be shaped by the kind of exposures they have on popular digital platforms?

My recent study shows that merely not receiving sufficient amounts of “LIKES” on social media, even from unknown others in similar age, can elicit feelings of inadequacy and emotional distress. Such negative impact of invalidation on social media was particularly harmful for youths who had been exposed to peer victimization in offline contexts. This line of project will continue to unravel the developmental impact of digital social experiences, and work to develop effective SEL programs that can ultimately be embedded in new technology platforms to better support safer and healthier social exploration online.

Some representative papers are: