Social media, online measures, and substance use development in adolescent twins

For this project that examines how adolescent social media activities could affect health behaviors like substance use and dependence, Professor of Information Paul Resnick will utilize his MTogether software to monitor behavior and introduce questionnaire items to the study participants.

Start date: 9/25/2014
End date: 8/31/2015

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This study, led by researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder will monitor social media use and exposure for 400 adolescent twins over the course of a full year. With many adolescents using multiple social media platforms, this study could provide insight into how social media exposure relates to behavioral and environmental risk factors, how this relationship evolves during adolescence, and the causes of individual differences in this relationship.

Researchers will link aspects of social media behavior in the twins to other behavioral factors like substance use and dependence and will evaluate the extent to which social media, GPS and online monitoring can provide accurate assessments of these behavioral issues and the environmental risk factors that lead to them.

Resnick's contribution to this study will utilize his MTogether software to monitor online behavior specific to this proposal. MTogether is a platform developed by Resnick and UMSI assistant professor Eytan Adar with a grant from Google that allows researchers to study individual usage across social computing sites. The software will post questionnaire items on participants' computers and mobile devices. 

The application used in this study will integrate in-person clinical, cognitive, and environmental assessment, online surveys, geospatial position logging, and monitoring of online and social media behavior. Resnick and his team will look for associations between substance use and social media indicators like duration of use and posting, reading or searching for drug-related content.

U-M School of Public Health faculty members Dr. Goncalo Abecasis (Center for Statistical Genetics) and Dr. Scott Vrieze (Biostatistics) are also investigators on this project. They and Dr. Resnick are responsible for integrating the School of Public Health's Genes for Good and MTogether platforms. Dr. Abecasis will also consult on study design, analysis, interpretation of results and publication.


Social Media, Online Measures, and Substance Use Development in Adolescent Twins, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: $271,993 (sub-grant from a larger $567,957 award given to the University of Colorado)


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is one of the 27 institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAAA supports and conducts research on the impact of alcohol use on human health and well-being. It is the largest funder of alcohol research in the world.