Research Projects

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The TAYA Lab aims to understand interpersonal and sociocultural influences on adolescent mental health, with an emphasis on gender, sexuality, social media use, body image, and LGBTQ+ youth, and an increasing focus on intersectionality. We focus primarily on adolescents and emerging adults, aged roughly 11-24.

 

Below I discuss current and recent research studies and collaborations. For papers already published, see my CV. For more info about my faculty collaborators, click below.

Current Projects:

Project ROSE (Racial Identity, Objectification, and Sociocultural Experiences) 

PI: Sophia Choukas-Bradley, Ph.D.

Project Leader: Brianna Ladd

Other collaborators outside of TAYA Lab: Jioni Lewis, Ph.D. (University of Maryland), Rowan Hunt (University of Louisville)

 

Project ROSE is a qualitative interview study focused on understanding Black young women’s gendered racial identity development, with an emphasis on experiences related to sexual objectification, self-objectification and body image, sexual relationships, and the intersection of sexism and racism. This project represents a collaboration with Dr. Jioni Lewis of the University of Maryland, and Bri Ladd, formerly the lab manager of the TAYA Lab and now a doctoral student in Dr. Lewis's lab. Dr. Choukas-Bradley received the University of Delaware's 2021 Women's Studies Faculty Research Award to fund this project, and qualitative interviews began in 2022.

Related to this work, the TAYA Lab is studying the intersection of gender identity and racial identity in the context of body image, sexuality, and mental health. For example, in October 2022, we published a paper in Body Image, "Black adolescents' appearance concerns, depressive symptoms, and self-objectification: Exploring the roles of gender and ethnic–racial identity commitment," authored by former TAYA lab manager Bri Ladd, current TAYA doctoral students Annie Maheux and Savannah Roberts, and Dr. Choukas-Bradley. 

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Project TAGS (Tracking Adolescents’ Gaze on Social Media)

PI: Sophia Choukas-Bradley

A major focus in our lab is on the roles of social media and gender in adolescents' body image and self-objectification. Dr. Choukas-Bradley recently published a theoretical paper in Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, "The perfect storm: A developmental–sociocultural framework for the role of social media in adolescent girls' body image concerns and mental health,co-authored by TAYA doctoral students Savannah Roberts and Annie Maheux, and by longstanding TAYA collaborator Dr. Jacqueline Nesi of Brown University. 

Our lab has recently begun a series of studies that will use eye-tracking technology to examine adolescents’ eye gaze while using social media. The broad goal is to understand connections between visual attention toward social media photos and adolescents’ mental health and well-being. We have completed data collection for our first pilot study, focused on adolescent girls’ body image: Project TAGS. This pilot study is funded in part by the American Psychological Association’s Division 7 Early Career Grant in Developmental Psychology and a grant from the University of Pittsburgh’s Central Research Development Fund. We recently applied for federal funding to conduct a larger-scale study combining our eye-tracking paradigm with a longitudinal study design that incorporates ecological momentary assessment (EMA), to understand how daily fluctuations in adolescents' social media experiences are linked to fluctuations in body image concerns and mental health symptoms. In the future, TAYA Lab members plan to conduct other studies involving eye-tracking technology across our areas of work on social media, body image, mental health, gender, sexuality, and LGBTQ+ identities.

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Project RAISE (Researching Adolescents' Interpersonal, Sociocultural, and Educational Experiences) 

PI: Sophia Choukas-Bradley

Other collaborators outside of TAYA Lab: Jacqueline Nesi (Brown University), Brian Galla (University of Pittsburgh), Jessica Hamilton (Rutgers University), and Angela Duckworth's Character Lab Research Network

Project RAISE is a collaboration with Angela Duckworth’s Character Lab Research Network, a consortium of schools across the country that works collaboratively with scientists to advance character development research. Across several cohorts, we have conducted multiple longitudinal school-based studies with adolescents. Our primary aim is to understand which aspects of social media use promote positive development and which appear to hinder development, across multiple interpersonal, psychological, and academic domains of adjustment. The pre-registration plan for many Project RAISE aims is available through Open Science Framework.

 

An example of a recent lab paper from Project RAISE is Maheux et al. (2021), "#Grateful: Longitudinal associations between adolescents’ social media use and gratitude during the COVID‐-19 pandemic," published in Journal of Research on Adolescence.  The paper mentioned in the Project ROSE section (Ladd et al., 2022) also used data from Project RAISE.

 

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Project TIDE (Teen Interviews about Diversity Experiences)

PI: Sophia Choukas-Bradley; co-investigators: Tina Goldstein, Brian Thoma, Rachel Salk, & Mike Marshal

 

Project TIDE is a mixed methods study aimed at understanding the intersection of LGBTQ+ experiences and mood symptomatology among adolescents who are in treatment for bipolar disorder (PI of overarching treatment study: Dr. Tina Goldstein), including qualitative interviewing and longitudinal quantitative assessments. Our primary quantitative aim is to use longitudinal modeling techniques to understand the developmental intersection of mood symptomatology, suicidality, and LGBTQ+-related experiences. Our primary qualitative aims are to understand the intersection of bipolar disorder and LGBTQ+ youth development in greater nuance and depth, as well as to understand connections between mood and patterns of sexual and romantic attraction.

 

We completed 20 qualitative interviews with adolescents in 2019. We then developed a qualitative coding system in collaboration with Pitt’s University Center for Social & Urban Research (UCSUR), and qualitative analyses are now underway. Data collection for the quantitative component of the study is ongoing, and we will begin quantitative data analyses once participants have completed their follow-up waves in the overarching treatment outcome study. This study is partially funded by a grant from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI).

An example of our in-preparation work:

Choukas-Bradley, S., Ladd, B. A., Maheux, A. J., Roberts, S. R., Thoma, B. C., Bryen, C. P., Carrino, E. A., & Goldstein, T. R. (manuscript in preparation). Sexual fluidity among bi+ cisgender adolescent girls in treatment for bipolar disorder: A qualitative analysis.

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Gender Minority Youth Study (GMY Study) I & II

Study leaders: Brian Thoma, Rachel Salk, & Sophia Choukas-Bradley

The first Gender Minority Youth Study (GMY I) was a mixed methods study focused on the mental health of transgender and other gender minority youth (GMY), funded in part by Pitt's University Research Council Grant for Research in Diversity (PI on grant: Dr. Rachel Salk; co-Is: Dr. Sophia Choukas-Bradley and Dr. Brian Thoma) and with Dr. Choukas-Bradley’s start-up funds from the University of Pittsburgh. We completed the qualitative phase of the study in the spring of 2018, involving in-depth interviews with GMY regarding the intersection of gender identity, body image, self-objectification, and disordered eating and weight-related behaviors. Next, in the fall of 2018, we collected quantitative data online from over 2,000 gender minority and cisgender adolescents, including assessments of a broad range of mental health symptoms, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, interpersonal experiences, and gender identity-related processes. Many of the cisgender youth in this study identified as sexual minority individuals. We have begun to publish papers from this dataset and other data analyses are currently underway.

 

In the spring of 2022, Thoma and Choukas-Bradley launched a longitudinal version of the GMY Study (GMY II), funded in part by the Lesbian Health Fund. As of the fall of 2022, we have also applied for funding from NIH to continue this line of work.

Examples of GMY Study papers first-authored by members of the TAYA Lab include:

Romito et al. (2021), Body Image, "Exploring transgender adolescents’ body image concerns and disordered eating: Semi-structured interviews with nine gender minority youth"

Roberts et al. (2021), International Journal of Eating Disorders, "Disparities in disordered eating between gender minority and cisgender adolescents" 

Maheux et al. (2021), The Journal of Sex Research, "Examining sexual behavior among U.S. transgender adolescents"

Other examples of GMY papers that Dr. Choukas-Bradley co-authored include:

Fox et al. (2020), Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, "Mental health among sexual and gender minority adolescents: Examining interactions with race and ethnicity"

Thoma et al. (2019), Pediatrics, "Suicidality disparities between transgender and cisgender adolescents"

HX Learn: Social Media Intervention Development 

PI: Emily Weinstein, Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education;

Other Collaborators: Carrie James, Project Zero; Brian Galla, Pitt School of Education; Jackie Nesi, Brown Medical School;

Beck Tench, U. Washington Information School

 

In 2017-2018, I collaborated with Brian Galla in Pitt’s School of Education to develop a social media intervention, which we tested through an RCT and published in Child Development. This intervention aims to motivate adolescents to take control over their social media use using a brief intervention, which exposes manipulative business practices of the "big tech" industry, and aims to align controlling social media use with teens' core values.

 

In 2022, we joined forces with Emily Weinstein and Carrie James of Project Zero (Harvard Graduate School of Education) to further develop and disseminate intervention materials, with funding from the Susan Crown Exchange. We aim to integrate evidence-based techniques from cognitive-behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy, and we are working with teachers and youth to create engaging educational materials that can be disseminated across schools. This project is part of a broader movement in research on adolescent social media use: HX, which stands for human experience. HX aims to center youth experiences and promote empowerment, agency, and digital wellbeing. Our work in this space is rapidly evolving; stay tuned! 

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Completed Projects

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Project DAISY (Disordered Eating, Academics, Identity, and Sexual Experiences among Young Adults

co-PI's: Annie Maheux and Savannah Roberts (TAYA Lab graduate students)

Advisor: Sophia Choukas-Bradley

Project DAISY is a cross-sectional, self-report, anonymous online survey among emerging adults ages 18-25. Data were collected in 2021. The study examines a broad range of sociocultural experiences and beliefs, identity characteristics, mental health outcomes and behaviors, and sexual relationships among emerging adults. We're currently working on two papers based on this dataset, each led by a TAYA doctoral student, to be submitted to journals in the fall of 2022: 

Stout, C. D., Maheux, A. J., Martino, R. M., Roberts, S. R., & Choukas-Bradley, S. (manuscript in preparation). “Sex would be as boring to me as eating dirt”: A mixed methods analysis of reasons young adults do not engage in hookups.

Martino, R. M., Roberts, S. R., Maheux, A. J., Stout, C. D., & Choukas-Bradley, S. (manuscript under review). The role of feminist identity and gender in endorsement of hookup culture among emerging adults.

Teen STAR Study (Sexuality, Technology, & Relationships)

PIs: Sophia Choukas-Bradley & Laura Widman (North Carolina State University)

 

In collaboration with Dr. Laura Widman’s Teen Health Lab at NC State University, the TAYA Lab conducted a school-based longitudinal study examining interpersonal influences on adolescents’ sexuality and body image. In the spring of 2018, we administered Widman’s sexual health intervention to NC high school students and collected data on a broad range of adolescents’ experiences related to social media use, body image, sexuality, and interpersonal relationships. We collected one-year follow-up data in the spring of 2019. We have begun to publish papers using this dataset. One major project related to this study is the development and validation of the Appearance-Related Social Media Consciousness (ASMC) Scale, and related investigations of ASMC. 

 

Choukas-Bradley et al. (2020), Body Image, "The Appearance-Related Social Media Consciousness Scale: Development and validation with adolescents"

Maheux et al. (2022), Journal of Adolescence, "Longitudinal associations between appearance-related social media consciousness and adolescents' depressive symptoms"

We have also published several papers focused on adolescents' sexuality; for example: 

Widman et al. (2021), Sexuality & Culture, "Sexual communication in the digital age: Adolescent sexual communication with parents and friends about sexting, pornography, and starting relationships online"

Maheux et al. (2021), Body Image, "Associations between adolescents’ pornography consumption and self-objectification, body comparison, and body shame"

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Other TAYA Lab Collaborations

 

Our lab has multiple ongoing collaborations focused on adolescents' and emerging adults' social media use. 

We work with researchers at the Pitt Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health to understand adolescents' and young adults' social media use. For example, I am working with César Escobar-Viera to develop a social-media delivered intervention to reduce social isolation among rural LGBTQ+ youth, funded by the Pitt Center for Enhancing Treatment and Utilization for Depression and Emergent Suicidality (ETUDES)

 

I also have long-standing collaborations with Jackie Nesi (Brown University), Mitch Prinstein (UNC Chapel Hill), and Matteo Giletta (Ghent University, Belgium) on studies related to peer relations and social media use.

I am a collaborator on several studies involving social media use and suicide risk. I am a co-investigator on an R01-funded study (PIs Jen Silk and Cecile Ladouceur), the Teen SCREEN Study, which uses

multiple methods to understand neural and social predictors of adolescent girls’ suicide risk, including social media experiences, using a combination of fMRI, ecological momentary assessment, and other measures.

 

In a collaboration with Caroline Oppenheimer of RTI and Jen Silk, Jamie Hanson, and Helmet Karim of Pitt, we are developing and testing TeenBrainOnline, a simulated social media task to be used in the fMRI scanner.

 

And as a co-investigator on an R21-funded study (PI Jamie Zelazny, Pitt School of Nursing), I am collaborating on an exciting new project that uses natural language processing to understand patterns of social media use preceding youths' hospitalization for suicide attempts, based on real social media interactions. 

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