The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced today that a new research center on campus will examine long-term effects of technology and social media use on teens’ social and emotional development.
The center aims to provide tools for parents, caregivers and teens to help them make informed choices when using technology.
The Winston National Center on Technology Use, Brain and Psychological Development was created with a $10 million gift from the Winston Family Foundation.
According to a recent statement, this gift builds on three years of emerging research stemming from specific correlations between increased device use and addiction seen by James Winston Jr., director of the Foundation.
In 2018 Winston launched an educational initiative –– The Winston Family Initiative in Technology and Adolescent Brain Development -- in partnership with UNC-Chapel Hill that has paved the way for this new research center.
The center has been established in part to establish neurobiological science behind the national narrative concerning social media’s impact on adolescent mental health.
Back in September 2021, The Wall Street Journal reported on a number of Facebook studies conducted over the previous three years that showed its platform, Instagram, was harmful to its younger user base -- especially teenage girls.
Most recently, Maura Healey, attorney general of Massachusetts, launched a nationwide investigation into TikTok’s impact on younger users’ physical and mental health after WSJ reported that a TikTok algorithm sent 13-year-olds thousands of weight-loss videos.
And in President Joe Biden’s State of The Union address earlier in March, he addressed the need to provide increased protections for children online, and called for an end to targeted advertising to children on social media platforms.
“It is clear we need to know more about the influence of social media experiences and device use on mental health,” says UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “We can grow our knowledge in a way that better equips our children and our society to navigate an evolving, but oftentimes dangerous, landscape of tech and social media.”
The team of researchers working at the new center will pursue a “five-pronged mission” centered on education, outreach, research, public health and adolescent involvement.
“Technology-mediated contexts have the potential to ‘rewire’ the developing brain,” said Eva Telzer, a UNC-Chapel Hill associate professor of psychology and neuroscience. “Scientific research, like ours, will hopefully create the impetus for more monitoring, oversight and regulation of social media platforms.
As of June 2020, 63% of parents in the United States reported that their teenagers spent more time using social media than they did in pre-pandemic times, according to research from Statista.