Social stress has to do with being stressed about changing relationships- which happen a lot during adolescence. Researchers wanted to find out about social stress in the daily life of adolescents, so they used the experience sampling method with smartphones to do so.
The basic questions the researchers were interested in were 1.) what situations influenced the times when adolescents experience the most social stress (when and with whom), 2.) how mood and social stress were related, and 3.) how loneliness influenced the previous two relationships. The researchers used smartphones to figure these questions out.
Students were recruited from the Netherlands, and given a smartphone with a pre-installed experience sampling program. The students then answered 9 randomly timed questions per day for six days. The study began on a Friday, so the researchers were able to capture weekend and school days (and on these days, students were allowed to answer questions in class).
After the sampling period, the researchers found that:
Adolescents were more likely to experience social stress on weekday mornings- when they were likely in school. This result makes sense, as the study also found that participants were more likely to experience social stress when they were with friends, as opposed to family. Because participants were in school, with friends – their changing relationships – during weekday mornings, and adolescents are more likely to experience social stress.
Social stress was associated with higher levels of negative affect. However a notable subset (about 35%), students did not experience increased negative affect during experiences of increased social stress.
Students who reported higher baseline levels of loneliness were more likely to experience higher levels of negative affect. So the researchers concluded that loneliness mediated the relationship between affect and social stress.
Navigating relationships as an adolescent can be stressful. However, through this study in daily life, researchers were able to find out the when adolescents experience social stress, how the social stress affects their mood, and how loneliness mediates the relationship. In the future, the researchers would like to investigate social stress resiliency in some adolescents, and how other adolescents can cope with social stress.
van Roekel, E., Ha, T., Verhagen, M., Kuntsche, E., Scholte, R. H., & Engels, R. C. (2015). Social stress in early adolescents’ daily lives: Associations with affect and loneliness. Journal of adolescence, 45, 274-283.