Stress and Resilience in the Everyday Lives of Adolescents

Adolescents face many novel challenges and stressors. For example, they often say that they are overwhelmed with piling loads of tests and homework in school, and stressed out of unpleasant experiences with their peers, such as victimisation and bullying that make them feel rejected and out of place. In the face of these pressing demands, how do young people make sense of these so-called “stressful” events and respond to them in their day-to-day lives? Why are some young people more resilient than others?

Using ecological momentary event sampling, my work seeks to identify contemporary sources of stressful experiences, and tracks 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 youths and young adults can cultivate a sense of resilience in their everyday social contexts; and also how wise interventions (that encourage adaptive mindsets and lay beliefs) can promote healthier affective and behavioural responses at critical developmental phases, and ultimately enable human thriving.

Representative papers:

Lee, H. Y., Jamieson, J. P., Miu, A. S., Josephs, R. A., & Yeager, D. S. (2019). An entity theory of intelligence predicts higher cortisol levels when high school grades are decliningChild Development. 90(6), e849-e867.

Yeager, D. S., Lee, H. Y., & Jamieson, J. P. (2016). How to improve adolescent stress responses: Insights from an integration of implicit theories and biopsychosocial modelPsychological Science, 27(8), 1078-1091.

Mindsets and Lay Theories Interventions For Social-Emotional Learning and Character Building in School

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 and beliefs. Working toward an integrative model of adolescent sensitivity to social status, my work asks whether adolescents’ mindsets and lay theories can impact how they navigate their social milieu and pursue social status and competence in divergent ways. My findings suggest that adolescents with a fixed mindset 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 various school-based social-emotional learning (SEL) programs to teach adolescents more malleable views about human social traits. Doing so improved adolescents’ hormonal stress responses and daily stress appraisals. In a more recent study, I work with my 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 different socialization processes.

Representative Papers and Presentations:

Lee, H. Y., & Yeager, D. S. (2019). Adolescents with an entity theory of personality are more vigilant to social status and use relational aggression to maintain social statusSocial Development.

Yeager, D. S., & Lee, H. Y. (2020). The incremental theory of personality intervention. In G. M. Walton, & A. J. Crum (Eds.), Handbook of wise interventions: How social-psychological insights can help solve problems. Guilford Press: New York, NY.

Lee, H. Y., Jamieson, J. P., Josephs, R. A., Reis, H. T., Beevers, C. G., Dobias, M., … & Yeager, D. S. (working paper). An incremental theory of personality promotes stress resilience in adolescence: Evidence from a pre-registered replication study.

*Yu, M. & Lee, H. Y. (March 2023). A values-alignment empathy training intervention reduces relational aggression among adolescents. Poster presented at the 2023 SRCD biennial conference meeting, Salt Lake City, UT.

Screen Time, Social Media, and Digital Social-Emotional Development

The recent cohorts of adolescents are “digital natives“. They spend increasingly more time 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 and development? How can their social development and mental health trajectories be shaped by the kind of exposure 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 of similar age, can elicit feelings of inadequacy and emotional distress. Such a negative impact of invalidation on social media was particularly harmful to youths who had been victimized in offline contexts. This line of the 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.

Representative papers and presentations:

Lee, H. Y., Jamieson, J. P., Reis, H. T., Beevers, C. G., Josephs, R. A., Mullarkey, M. C., O’Brien, J., & Yeager, D. S. (2020). Getting fewer “likes” than others on social media elicits emotional distress among victimized adolescentsChild Development. Doi: 10.1111/cdev.13422.

Lee, H. Y., Jamieson, J. P., Josephs, R. A., Beevers, C. G., Reis, H. T., & Yeager, D. S. (working paper). Adolescents’ implicit theories of personality shape their responses to social media stressors.

*Lepcha, Y. & Lee, H. Y. (May 2022). Who benefits from online social media feedback?The moderating effects of global self-esteem. Poster presented at the 34th APS annual meeting, Chicago, IL.