New study will assess impact of digital tech on young people

The impact of digital technologies on young people’s health is the subject of a €6m project being carried out in Scotland and across Europe.


The work is being carried out by scientists from Heriot-Watt University, alongside partners at Edinburgh University and a European consortium led by German research institute FTK.

Focusing on young people aged 10-24 years, the research will examine how our rapidly changing society has created additional digital stressors.

Dr Mel McKendrick from Heriot-Watt University explained that the study will examine stress from digitalisation, looking at it from the user’s perspective to better understand changes in mental state, treatment, and self-management.

The project is funded by Horizon Europe with just under €1m of the total funding supporting the UK research partners. Similar pilot studies will take place in Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Cyprus, and Poland using the same approach. It’s anticipated the new research will help practitioners and individuals to better monitor and manage emotional well-being in young people.

Experts from psychology and engineering specialties will work alongside clinicians and gaming experts, to develop ways to measure the impact of direct and indirect stressors. These include 24/7 news cycles, world events, social media, and cyberbullying. The team will use gamification techniques to explore ways to help practitioners and individuals to process these stressors and manage their well-being. 


Dr Theodore Lim from Heriot-Watt University said the collaboration between psychology and engineering will use gamification such as a mobile app game to capture neurological sequences in young people.

“We know that gamified mental health options are appealing to some but there is not enough evidence that gamification is effective in psychiatry. Hence, this project,” he said. “Our approach would likely explore various social mechanics and its embedment into inclusive-communal game mechanics.”

Dr Lim added that the way participants play the game will inform the research team about their mental well-being, tracking their response over time to deliver trends and patterns.

“The data will be fed into a hub with an AI to analyse it,” he said. “Clinical and user input will be essential throughout the study to improve the game and identify the correct classifiers.”

Ensuring young people are engaged in the game and that participation is positive will be essential requirements of the study’s success, so the team will build it using focus groups and discussions with young people and social networks. The clinical team will work with schools and universities to help involve children on a voluntary basis. 

“It is important that whatever the gamification that interaction is meaningful and rewarding, not just fun, to that individual,” said Dr Lim.

Results will be released as an open knowledge database for clinicians and researchers to feedback on and analyse. 

The Heriot-Watt team will work with gaming company Neuromedia and clinicians from Edinburgh University with the findings initially informing approaches in Scotland before widening out the study’s impact to the rest of the UK.