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Brock study to look at personality and social connection during pandemic among teens

Associate professor Danielle Sirianni Molnar said that the new study will help 'to get a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of what's going on with youth during COVID-19'
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NEWS RELEASE
BROCK UNIVERSITY
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A team of Brock University researchers wants to learn more about perfectionism and well-being among adolescents, while also exploring the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on school experiences.

Anyone between the ages of 12 and 18 is invited to participate in the Niagara Adolescent Personality and Social Connection Study, conducted by researchers in Brock’s Developmental Processing in Health and Well-being Lab in the Department of Child and Youth Studies.

Over the course of four months, participants will complete a series of three online surveys covering a variety of topics including personality, emotions, school experiences and feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic.

A few participants will also be randomly selected to complete an online interview in addition to the surveys. For each survey completed, participants will receive a $20 Amazon gift card. Those who complete an online interview will also receive a $25 Amazon gift card.

Associate Professor Danielle Sirianni Molnar says the study has grown out of results from previous research on adolescent youth relationships, social connection and personality that began prior to the global pandemic.

“The previous study didn’t have rich information on the actual COVID-19 experience because it was designed pre-pandemic, and it also didn’t go in depth on educational issues,” says Molnar. “Based on what we’ve learned from our previous research, we’ve added a lot more on these topics to this new study to get a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of what’s going on with youth during COVID-19.”

Professor Dawn Zinga says that although the last study didn’t explicitly ask about mental health, the issue emerged as a strong theme for youth. And because the study continued through key time frames in Ontario’s pandemic restrictions, the team can glean data about youth mental health.

Zinga and Molnar, along with Sabrina Thai in the Department of Psychology, research associate Tabitha Methot-Jones and master’s student and lab assistant Melissa Blackburn, are now working on a paper based on those results showing how pre-pandemic perfectionism, anxiety and depression changed across the first government lockdown in Ontario and the second.

“From pre-pandemic to first lockdown, depression actually decreased slightly, but then we saw a steep increase from first lockdown to second lockdown, with changes in perfectionism paralleling the changes in depression,” says Molnar. “Higher levels of socially prescribed perfectionism, which is when you perceive others expecting perfection from you, were associated with greater depression over time.”

Molnar says this is strong evidence of the links between perfectionism and mental health in adolescents, which has already been shown in older populations.

“Research is clearly suggesting that youth who are higher in perfectionism are vulnerable to the negative aspects of the pandemic, so we really want to explore how and why,” Molnar says. “The goal is to come up with evidence-based strategies to help these youth, as well as parents and educators, to recognize what’s happening and provide some help.”

This is all the more significant because other research from the lab shows that nearly half of all youth in multiple studies — 47.8 per cent — self-identified as being perfectionists.

Zinga says part of a perfectionistic personality is making an effort to seem like the perfect child. She warns that caregivers and teachers need to be vigilant about seeing what is happening, rather than how a young person presents.

“In our earlier work, participants talked about feeling isolated and actively withdrawing from connections, even within the same household — not connecting with their parents, not telling them things,” says Zinga. “Parents need to watch the behavioural signals underneath, like eating or spending too much time in their room. In the pandemic, you may be sharing more space and time with your children, but your attention may actually be more divided, so it’s important to rely on more than proximity as you assess your child’s well-being.”

Blackburn says the research team is hoping to recruit up to 500 Ontario youth to participate in the mixed-methods Niagara Adolescent Personality and Social Connection Study, which will form the foundation of her master’s thesis research.

Anyone between the ages of 12 and 18 who would like to participate needs to have a private email address. Those under the age of 18 also need their parents’ permission to participate, which can be granted via email. Requests to participate and parental permission can be sent to dphwblab@brocku.ca

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