Research and innovation

Teen study to track loneliness in the digital age

The impact of online socialising on young people’s loneliness is the subject of a nationwide study.

Teenage boy using smartphone, sat on the edge of his bed, with files and books on shelves in the background

Teenagers aged 12 to 15 are invited to take part in research to track their mental health alongside their social interactions.

The findings will help to uncover how online communication and the influence of the digital world affects youth mental health, experts say.

Socialising online

The University of Edinburgh study, part of the Generation Scotland project, will recruit 200 teenagers in Scotland to record their emotions and any associated social interactions – both online and offline – over a two-week period via a smartphone app.

It aims to capture the impact of interactions on social media platforms such as Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram, which play an increasingly significant role in the social lives of young people.

Many teenagers report engaging online as beneficial for their mental health and wellbeing, despite previous research indicating that online interactions may not offer the same opportunities for emotional and social growth as in-person interactions.

The young volunteers will be prompted to input information at various points during the day, providing real-time evidence on the experiences of loneliness for young people.

Young people interested in taking part in the study can sign up to take part via Generation Scotland. Details are available at

Adolescence is a period of huge physical, social, cognitive and emotional change. As the brain is changing a lot at this age, it can be viewed as a window of opportunity to potentially avoid the development of mental health conditions. We need more young people to join longitudinal studies such as Generation Scotland in order to support the mental health of young people now and into the future.

Professor Heather WhalleyChief Scientist for Generation Scotland at the University of Edinburgh

Youth involvement

The study was co-developed with a group of 10 young advisors. The team hopes to encourage more young people to take part and help shape health research for current and future generations.

In order to affect real change, we need to give young people a platform to amplify their voices. Young people are not just the future; their health and wellbeing matters now and we need to work with them to find solutions to the mental health crisis our society is facing.

Sarah RobertsonYouth Engagement Lead for Generation Scotland at the University of Edinburgh

The study is funded by the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust.

Related links

Visit the study website

Sign up to Generation Scotland to take part

Image credit: Richard Drury via Getty Images