The effect of online social evaluation on mood and cognition in young people.
Adolescence is characterised by increased peer interactions and heightened sensitivity to evaluation by peers. Increasingly, social interactions and evaluation happen in online contexts. Yet, little is known about the impact of online social interactions and evaluation on adolescent emotional and cognitive functioning. The present study examined the impact of online social evaluative threat on young people's mood and learning and whether this varied as a function of known offline social risk and protective factors. 255 participants completed a perceptual learning task under online social evaluative threat and a perceptually-matched control condition. Participants were aged 11-30 years, to allow for the exploration of age differences in the impact of online social evaluative threat from adolescence to early adulthood. Participants reported a greater increase in negative mood (self-reported levels of stress, anxiety, and anhedonia), following social evaluative threat compared to the control condition. Heightened social rejection sensitivity (measured using the Online and Offline Social Sensitivity Scale) and lower perceived social support (measured using the Schuster Social Support Scale) were associated with elevated negative mood across the study. Social evaluative threat adversely impacted overall accuracy on the perceptual matching task, but not learning. These findings provide preliminary evidence that online social evaluative threat impacts adolescent mood and cognitive functioning.