Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology and Psychotherapy

Systematic Review of Ecological Momentary Assessment Studies on Stress in the Daily Lives of Youth

Collaborators: Laura Meine, University of Zurich

Project Duration: 10/2023 – 06/2024


Stress represents a transdiagnostic risk factor key to the genesis of numerous psychological disorders, many of which debut during childhood or adolescence (McMahon et al., 2003). Stress is associated with youth depression (e.g., Vrshek-Schallhorn et al., 2015), anxiety (Allen, Rapee, & Sandberg, 2008), broad internalizing (Zandstra et al., 2015) and externalizing problems (Zandstra et al., 2015). Moreover, youth with depression and anxiety engage in behaviors and select environments that lead to stress (Hammen et al., 2012). These associations suggest that stress-related processes may confer risk for, and also be generated by common psychopathology.

Process-based accounts of psychopathology (Wright & Kaurin, 2020) shift the focus of psychopathology research to intra-individual processes that unfold in transaction with the environment (Baumert et al., 2017; Vize, Kaurin, & Wright, 2021). Ecological momentary assessment (EMA) tools are one promising avenue to develop transdiagnostic symptom profiles and within-person processes relevant to mental health outcomes in youth.

Over the past two decades there has been a surge of interest in using EMA to study dynamic processes in daily life across the psychological sciences (Hamaker & Wichers, 2017) including the study of psychopathology in youth (Wen et al., 2017; Heron et al., 2017). EMA affords key benefits, most notably increased ecological validity, reduced retrospective bias, and the ability to sample various points along a process (Shiffman et al., 2008). Thus, EMA allows researchers to better harmonize theory, data acquisition, and statistical models of youth psychopathology. To date, however, there is a lack of comprehensive synthesis in EMA research, particularly in child and adolescent samples. Existing reviews have mainly focused on critical EMA protocol design issues, aiming to offer guidelines for best practices in planning and conducting EMA studies with clinical samples (Wen et al., 2017; Heron et al., 2017).

Due to the transdiagnostic value of stress processes, the aim of this work is to provide a systematic overview of how stress is operationalized and quantified in the daily lives of youth via EMA designs. This includes descriptive aspects such as item semantics, the variability of daily stress, the frequency/prevalence of assessed stressors (see Figure 1 for an overview), as well as the identification of relationships and covariations between stress indices and mental health outcomes. We intend not only to report on the current state of the literature but also to address emerging challenges of real-time assessments of stress in children and adolescents, ultimately deriving recommendations for future studies.

Figure 1. Source: Kaurin et al., 2023



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Last modified: 27.11.2023

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