Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), University of Amsterdam
What are you currently working on?
To begin with: Thank you so much for this wonderful invitation! I feel super honored to be featured among this fantastic collection of brilliant scholars. My current project, Project AWeSome, in collaboration with Patti Valkenburg, Irene van Driel, Teun Siebers, Tim Verbeij (U of Amsterdam), Loes Keijsers (Erasmus U Rotterdam), and Loes Pouwels (Radboud U Nijmegen), investigates the effects of social media on various aspects of adolescent well-being. We developed a person-specific or so-called N=1 approach to study individual differences in the effects of social media use on different aspects of adolescent well-being. In our first studies, we analyzed intensive longitudinal data which we collected using an experience sampling method (ESM). We found striking differences in adolescents’ susceptibility to the effects of social media: While social media make some adolescents feel happy, it leaves others feeling blue. Currently, we are unraveling the effects of the content that adolescents share and encounter on social media. For example, we are analyzing Instagram data, which we collected through data donations. It’s a promising new way to understand what adolescents post, share, and browse through on social media, but also comes with several pitfalls.
What has been your most memorable project so far, and why?
There are so many! I had the pleasure to be involved in several memorable projects. Of course, my PhD project was unforgettable. I collected longitudinal survey data among more than 1,000 parents of six-month- to six-year-olds, which brought me on a journey along several day care centers and preschools across the country. Besides giving me the opportunity to explore the Belgian countryside, it also allowed me to develop the Life Logistics model, which investigates the role of parents’ structural life circumstances, such as their work-life balance, in children’s media use. I still vividly remember the blood, sweat, and tears that I poured into developing, testing, and publishing the model.
Although I obtained my PhD less than a decade ago, I can’t believe how much the media landscape has changed since then. While the television played a prominent role in most families when I started the data collection, several families had already embraced the tablet computer around the time I finished my PhD. It felt a bit as if my dissertation was already outdated by the time it was finished. But later I realized that many of the processes that are at play in family’s television use, are also at play when it comes to their mobile media use, although in different shapes. And eventually, I had the great opportunity to studying the effects of children’s mobile media use through several wonderful collaborations with fellow CAMmers Amy Nathanson (e.g., on children’s sleep) and Kathleen Beullens (e.g., on parent-child conflict).
Beyond the memorable projects, the ICA conferences and the CAM gatherings have been truly memorable! Throughout my academic journey, I’ve been feeling so blessed by the many opportunities to meet so many inspiring and warm people, travel the world, and discover new places.
Which achievement are you most proud of, and why?
I am very proud to have been contributing to the new N=1 approach to study media effects that we developed in Project AWeSome. Being part of this new turn in media effects research is absolutely wonderful. I am also very proud of the opportunities to mentor PhD students and Master students. Noticing the research twinkle and excitement in their eyes, attending their first conference presentations, and seeing their first articles being published makes me feel as proud as punch. And of course, I felt super honored to be elected as CAM secretary. I very much enjoyed contributing to our division and meeting so many fantastic CAMmers, be it at the ICA conferences, through the Spotlight interviews, or through project collaborations.
What is an important question from parents and practitioners that we as academics cannot provide a good answer to yet?
What should I do to make sure that my child doesn’t become depressed by social media? It is currently such a pressing question among so many parents, but we still lack clear answers. We’ve already started to understand that not every adolescent becomes depressed by social media. But we don’t understand yet how parents can most effectively boost their child’s well-being and prevent potential negative effects, such as depressive symptoms. For example, we often assume that autonomy-supportive parenting, in which parents provide a developmentally appropriate rationale for their media rules, may reduce the chances of adolescents developing depressive symptoms. But we don’t know yet if this is true: Do all adolescents benefit from autonomy-supportive parenting? And if not, what works best for each specific adolescent? I truly hope to find an answer to these questions one day.
What would be your work motto?
Be curious and feel blessed for getting to be professionally curious. Although an academic career comes with bumps and jumps, I feel extremely fortunate that I can satisfy my curiosity through my work and explore questions that I am genuinely curious about.
Which of your publications is your favorite, and why?
My favorite publication is our first Project AWeSome article, entitled “The effect of social media on well-being differs from adolescent to adolescent” published in Scientific Reports. We tried to unravel differences in adolescents’ susceptibility to the effects of social media and understand how many adolescents benefit and how many suffer from using social media. We found that most adolescents did not experience any changes in well-being due to their social media use. For example, almost three in four adolescents did not feel happier or unhappier when browsing posts or stories of others on Instagram. But we also found that almost one in five adolescents felt happier, and one in ten felt less happy.
This article is the result of excellent (and fun!) teamwork. I still remember the lively discussions we had while conducting this study, and the excitement when the first set of analyses confirmed what we had hypothesized: that there would be substantial heterogeneity in adolescents’ susceptibility to the effects of social media. Setting up an ESM study, an exciting challenge for a researcher like me trained in conducting “traditional” survey studies, and analyzing the data using new N=1 techniques and statistical tools put me on a rollercoaster with several ups and downs. But seeing the article being published and winning the 2021 CAM Best Published Article Award was the icing on the cake!
If you had unlimited resources, what kind of project would you want to do and why?
Beyond developing a project that investigates how parents can shape the effects of social media on their teens, I would love to conduct a lifelong research project that follows people from birth to death. A true “Media use from cradle to grave” project. Media take up such an important place in so many people’s lives—be it as a “babysitter” for infants and toddlers, a way to connect with peers for teens, and a source of companionship for older people. It would be so super interesting to understand how one’s media use develops across the lifespan. I would use an N=1 approach so that we can understand each single person’s development of media use and susceptibility to media effects. If resources would be really unlimited (and assume participants’ mental resources to participate in the project would also be unlimited), I would collect daily assessments across each person’s entire lifespan. Imagine that we could then collect 30.000 observations per person! I can’t wait to analyze such data! Only problem may be that I probably won’t survive the research participants, so I will leave the joy of analyzing the data and exploring the findings for those who come after me.
If you had to give one piece of advice to young CAM scholars, what would it be?
Try to look for opportunities to work with a team and set up collaborations with other researchers. I had the pleasure and good fortune to team up with so many brilliant scholars. In every step of the research cycle, teamwork can be beneficial and inspiring: from developing your research ideas, over setting up the data collection and collecting the data, to writing up the study. I’ve learned and still learn so much through collaborating with other researchers and count myself very lucky to have been part of so many dedicated and enthusiastic research teams.
Who would you like to put in the spotlight next, and why?
I would like to nominate Brigitte Naderer. She has been conducting very important research on media literacy and the effects of advertising on youth. And she is doing really great work as the social media editor of Journal of Children and Media.