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Exploring Social Learning in Mirroring Digital Environments to SupportYoung Children’s Mental Health

2024-25 Pilot Project

Digital learning + child psychoanalysis + affective interaction and computing
Children and young people’s mental health is of considerable societal concern, the focus of recent funding initiatives, and is one of UCL’s Mental Health Research Strategy priority areas. Concerns around prevention having escalated since the pandemic (estimated 1.5 million children/young people in England need new/additional mental health support), with children experiencing extensive loss of normal social interactions. Through development and evaluation of this novel digital interactive space (“Digital Others’), this project has significant social relevance for fostering the development of agency, competence and relatedness across different stages of childhood development.  Through working with children starting or transitioning to school - a moment of critical change (e.g., Denham, 2006), this pilot project will illustrate how group-based self-discovery through digital interaction can underpin positive mental health. This will provide important foundations (through proof of concept and feasibility) for extending the research to larger, broader populations, including those with mental health issues, and those in need of screening.  Given increasing trends towards digital applications, a social science approach brings a critical lens to such emerging technological developments.

Research Question
How can mirroring whole body digital interaction environments be designed to support three foundational components of young children’s mental health: agency, competence, and relatedness within contexts of social learning?
Sub-questions:
How can digital narratives/scenarios be designed and developed to foster group-based self-discovery?
How do specific dimensions of the digital interactive environment design (e.g., mirrored action, action dissimilarity, timing) shape children’s social learning during interaction?
How do these ‘digital other’ designs enable children to develop agency, competence and relatedness?
Can movement sensing technology be employed with children to personalise environments and generate quantitative measures for assessing agency, competence and relatedness?

Principal Investigator
Professor Sara Price
Professor of Digital Learning, Culture Communication & Media, UCL Knowledge Lab, IOE 

Non-Social Science Co-Investigator
Professor Peter Fonagy
Professor of Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Developmental Science, Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, Brain Sciences

Second Co-Investigator
Professor Nadia Bianchi-Berthouze
Professor of Affective Interaction and Computing, UCL Interaction Centre, Computer Science and Division of Psychology & Language Sciences, Engineering Sciences

Early Career Researcher
Dr. Minna Nygren
Research Fellow, UCL Interaction Centre, IOE