Research outcomes - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Research outcomes

Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS) researchers will publish group level non-identifiable data in scientific journals and present at conferences. All publications will be available through USC Research Bank.

The data so far

We are constantly gathering data on youth mental health, and using it to update our dashboards and graphs here.

Published research

Using measures of intrinsic homeostasis and extrinsic modulation to evaluate mental health in adolescents: Preliminary results from the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS)

Read this paper published in Psychiatry Research

Key findings:

  • In the first 50 LABS participants (all 12 years old): 16% had psychological distress levels that were consistent with having a mental disorder; 20% reported suicidal ideation
  • Sleep and social connectedness are important external modulators mental wellbeing
  • Systems thinking (a wholistic approach to analysis) is key to understanding and improving adolescent mental health
  • A heatmap matrix that illustrates the overall associations between influences on and indicators for adolescent mental health
Associations between Facial Emotion Recognition and Mental Health in Early Adolescence

Read this paper, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Key findings:

  • In this study of 40 LABS participants (12 years old), we found associations between increased mental health problems and a processing bias for anger and fear negative facial expressions.
  • This indicates that increased psychological problems may negatively impact on social cognition and functioning in early adolescents (or vice versa; hence the importance of longitudinal studies).
Subcortical volume correlates of psychological distress in early adolescence

Read this paper, published in Developmental Neuroscience

Key finding:

  • In this specialised brain imaging study of 32 LABS participants we found that sub-sections of the amygdala and hippocampus, two brain structures which play significant roles in the control of emotion and memory, respectively, are significantly reduced in volume in those with increasing levels of psychological distress.
Investigating the association between sleep quality and diffusion-derived structural integrity of white matter in early adolescence

Read the full paper, published in the Journal of Adolescence

Key findings:

Significant correlations were found between the posterior limb of the internal capsule and the PSQI total sleep quality and sleep latency scores. There was also a significant difference in sleep duration between male and female participants.

These findings provide an important insight of the impact that sleep may have on early adolescent WM development. Ongoing longitudinal assessment of sleep on WM development across adolescence is likely to provide further important information about how WM maturation relates to variations in sleep quality as circadian rhythm changes occur during middle and late adolescence.

Associations between sleep quality and psychological distress in early adolescence

Access the full paper

Key findings

  • Consistent with previous findings, bivariate correlations revealed significant positive linear relationships between K10 total score and (i) PSQI total score; (ii) sleep quality; (iii) daytime dysfunction; and (iv) sleep disturbance. However, contrary to previous findings, there was no significant correlation between K10 scores and sleep duration.
  • The association between sleep quality and psychological distress in early adolescents provides some important clues about the role that sleep may play in predicting the onset of anxiety and depressive disorders. Longitudinal studies should be undertaken to investigate age-related changes in sleep and psychological distress.
Short strides to important findings: A short interval longitudinal study of sleep quality, psychological distress and microstructure changes to the uncinate fasciculus in early adolescents

Published in the International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience

Key finding: Reduced radial diffusivity & increased fractional anisotropy in the UF suggesting possible myelination; sleep quality also associated with this myelination process. Elucidating how sleep, psychological distress and maturation of the UF may co-develop during early adolescence.

A novel, complex systems approach to modelling risk of psychological distress in young adolescents

Published in Scientific Reports

Key finding: The Bayesian Network approach provides some evidence that high psychological distress in 12 year olds appears to be linked with poor diet, social connectedness and sleep.

Social Connectedness, Cyberbullying, and Well-being: Preliminary Findings from the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study

Published in Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking

Structural equation modeling revealed a mediating effect of social connectedness on the relationship between cyberbullying and well-being. In other words, the negative influences of cyberbullying and cybervictimization on well-being scores over time are influenced by levels of social connectedness. The present findings highlight that increased social connectedness in young people is vital to promoting positive well-being over time and can protect wellbeing in those experiencing cyberbullying and/or cybervictimization. Findings can inform cyberbullying education programs, health care practitioners, parents, and educators on the importance of young people remaining socially connected when experiencing cyberbullying and/or cybervictimization.

Cyberbullying, metacognition, and quality of life: preliminary findings from the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS)

Published in Discover Psychology

Findings: Structural equation modeling revealed significant associations between cyberbullying, cybervictimisation, metacognitive beliefs, and quality of life (QoL). However, mediation analysis showed that only cognitive confidence acted as a partial mediator between cybervictimisation and QoL. The results suggest those who were more frequently cybervictimised had reduced confidence in their memory, which resulted in lower QoL. In addition, uncontrollability/danger and superstition, punishment, and responsibility were all negatively associated with QoL, indicating that as these metacognitive beliefs increased, QoL decreased. Our findings highlight the detrimental impact that cybervictimisation experiences can have on QoL in young people over time, and that some forms of metacognitive beliefs can also impact QoL. These findings can inform educators and health professionals on the importance of metacognition in regard to QoL over time, particularly in those who experience cybervictimisation.

Basal ganglia correlates of wellbeing in early adolescence

Published in Brain Research
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This cross-sectional study examined relationships between grey matter volume (GMV) of
basal ganglia regions (caudate, putamen, pallidum and nucleus accumbens) and self-reported wellbeing
(COMPAS-W), in a sample of Australian adolescents aged 12 years (N = 49, M = 12.6, 46.9% female). Significant negative associations were found between left hemisphere caudate GMV and scores on ‘total wellbeing’, ‘composure’ and ‘positivity’. The results of this study indicate that smaller caudate GMV at age 12 is linked to increased subjective wellbeing. While seemingly counter-intuitive, our finding is consistent with previous research of decreased GMV in the pons and increased COMPAS-W scores in adults. Our results suggest that protective neurobiological factors may be identifiable early in adolescence and be linked to specific types of wellbeing (such as positive affect and optimism). This has implications for interventions targeted at building resilience against mental health disorders in young people.

Suicidality in 12‑Year‑Olds: The Interaction Between Social Connectedness and Mental Health

Published in Child Psychiatry & Human Development

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STB) are a leading cause of death in adolescence. To date, most research with youth has focused on risk factors for suicide; and less attention has been paid to resilience factors. This study examined whether positive beliefs and social connectedness moderate associations between mental health symptoms and STB. A community sample of 12-year-olds (N = 60) completed self-report questionnaires on their STB, mental health symptoms, positive beliefs and social connectedness. Nearly 20% of the adolescents reported STB. STB was associated with increased mental health symptoms and lower scores on the resilience measures. A significant moderating effect of social connectedness showed that youth with a combination of poor mental health and high levels of social support exhibited lower levels of STB. There was no significant moderating effect of positive beliefs. These results indicate that social support should be screened for in primary care and incorporated into youth suicide prevention programs.

Can measures of sleep quality or white matter structural integrity predict level of worry or rumination in adolescents facing stressful situations? Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

Published in Journal of Adolescence
Read news about this paper

Sleep quality (PSQI total) was significantly poorer during COVID compared with pre-
COVID. Sleep onset latency measured pre-COVID was significantly associated with COVID-specific
worry and rumination. While the structural integrity of a number of WM tracts
(measured pre-COVID) were found to be significantly associated with COVID-specific worry and
rumination. Follow-up regression analysis using a model including pre-COVID sleep onset latency,
structural integrity of the posterior limb of the internal capsule (PLIC), gender and change
in PSQI explained a significant 47% of the variance in COVID-specific worry and rumination.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that adolescents with poor sleep quality and perturbed WM
integrity may be at risk of heightened reactivity to future stressful events and interventions should
focus on improving sleep onset latency.

Literature reviews
Interesting reading