Social Media Activity, Number of Friends, and Relationship Quality: The Effects on Young Peopleā€™s Sense of Belonging and Wellbeing

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Lindsey Elder
Submitted: June 2021


Positive relationships are essential in meeting the fundamental need to belong. In adolescence, peer relationships become increasingly important for belonging as the risk of experiencing loneliness increases. However, the rising popularity of social media has added to the complexity of adolescentsā€™ peer experiences, as it presents a number of interpersonal challenges and opportunities. In this thesis, I (1) introduce the thesis research and present a rationale for the chosen topic area, (2) explore the relationship between friendship quantity and quality and young peopleā€™s sense of belonging, and (3) consider how social media can be used to enhance wellbeing and belonging during adolescence.

The first chapter is an introduction to my thesis research. In this chapter, I summarise my thesis journey; I explain how my personal experiences inspired my chosen research area, what questions I wanted to answer, how I chose to answer them, and what I learned from the process. In the second chapter, I present the findings of a systematic literature review investigating the evidence for relationships between friendship quantity and quality and adolescentsā€™ sense of belonging over time. The results of the 13 reviewed studies suggest that having more friends indirectly reduces loneliness by giving teenagers more opportunities to develop high quality friendships. However, more rigorous longitudinal research needs to be conducted to make reliable conclusions about these complex associations. In the third chapter, I present the findings of my empirical research, where I investigated how social media can be used to promote adolescentsā€™ sense of belonging and wellbeing. In this research, 49 11- 18-year-olds took part in a randomised controlled study, where they were asked to either (1) interact on social media, (2) lurk passively without interacting on social media, or (3) interact face-to-face. The results show that changes in belonging and wellbeing did not differ significantly between the groups. However, the findings do suggest that using social media to maintain existing relationships positively predicts later belonging. Conversely, using social media to pass time predicts lower belonging and wellbeing. Overall, the study provides some preliminary evidence to suggest that using social media to interact with friends and family is more beneficial for adolescents than passive use. However, repeating the research after the coronavirus pandemic and with a larger sample size will be important to make more reliable conclusions and recommendations for practice.

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The Voice of Service Children: A Systematic Review of Service Childrenā€™s Experiences and a Study Exploring School Belonging in Children of Service Personnel

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Kirsty Daniels
Submitted: June 2021


Chapter 1 provides an account of the research background and how understanding the needs of UK service children sits within the national context and personal position of the researcher. Chapter 2 presents a systematic review of existing research that gathered the voices of service children in the UK. Searches for this review identified six research papers that were critically appraised in order to better understand the experiences of service children in the UK. A number of common themes emerged relating to the highs and lows of service life, recognising both the challenges and positive outcomes being a service child can bring. These themes were referenced in relation to parental deployment and mobility, and key findings emphasised the importance of social relations as both a risk and protective factor for these individuals. The findings highlighted the need to examine the impact of parental deployment and school transition on the relational needs of service children. Chapter 3 presents a qualitative study that explores school belonging in children of service personnel. Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to explore the lived experiences of six service children and their sense of school belonging. IPA was viewed through a critical realism lens. Five main themes developed from the analysis: defining school belonging; fostering connections and improving communications (at the individual and systemic level); school support: positive attitudes and understanding of the issues facing service children; transition; and impact on childā€™s phenomenon. From these findings a number of practical suggestions were identified.

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An intervention to raise a sense of belonging and associated outcomes for secondary aged pupils with low socioeconomic status

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Joanne Lambeth
Submitted: June 2017


The first chapter of this document outlines a systematic literature review regarding the relationship between belonging and academic achievement, specifically in relation to adolescents. Three databases were systematically searched following a clear search strategy and inclusion criteria. Nineteen articles were identified and critically appraised in order to understand the current picture of the research. On balance, the review highlights that belonging is significantly related to academic achievement. This relationship was found across gender and different cultures. In addition, within the concept of belonging, some factors seem to influence achievement more than others, e.g., relatedness to teachers. However taken together, it indicates that relationships in general are important to support achievement. This review also highlights factors that contribute to differences in belonging and achievement such as gender (with girls achieving higher levels of both) and marginalisation by ethnicity and socioeconomic status. In addition, the articles indentified a range of variables that help to explain the relationship including academic emotions, engagement, behaviour conduct, educational efficacy and purpose. Despite the findings reported in the literature, there is a lack of experimental research regarding this relationship and the conclusion remains correlational. Following this review a gap in the literature appears regarding how to increase belonging and consequently achievement, using an experimental design. In addition, it highlights to educational professionals that relationships are important in supporting achievement and should be adequately supported in educational settings.

The second chapter of this document reports on experimental research conducted on the topic of belonging and associated outcomes for young adolescents. Previous research demonstrated that a brief psychological intervention increased belonging and attainment for a marginalised population (individuals from African American backgrounds) upon transition to a new environment (college) (Walton & Cohen, 2011). The current research adapted and used this intervention with a different population, i.e., young adolescents who may experience marginalisation due to low socioeconomic status (SES), upon transition to secondary school. The aim of the intervention is to target individuals who may worry about belonging and implicitly change their attributions about negative experiences, i.e., that perceptions of social adversity are common and time limited, not due to the individual themselves. Three schools based in low SES areas agreed to take part. Year 7 pupils (N = 62) were allocated to either an intervention group (n = 25) or active control group (n = 37). Measures of anxiety about belonging and SES were taken pre-intervention. Measures of belonging, attainment and attendance were taken across a period of six months. Correlational analysis found that SES was significantly related to anxiety about belonging, i.e., those with low SES had higher levels of anxiety. Multiple regression analysis also found that SES significantly predicted attainment. T-tests were used to analyse the difference between the intervention and control conditions in regards to belonging, attainment and attendance. However, no differences were found between the intervention and control groups. Future directions regarding the development of this intervention are discussed.

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Sense of school belonging: How can schools make a difference?

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Ashleigh Shuttleworth
Submitted: June 2018


The review investigated what school based interventions currently exist for supporting pupils sense of school belonging (SoSB). The search yielded 20 articles to be included in the review, and from these studies, 21 different intervention programmes were identified. Whilst all interventions aimed to increase SoSB, they were variable in many other aspects. To support synthesis of results, interventions were categorised as universal or targeted programmes and further divided based on common themes. Twelve studies reported a positive and significant effect of experimental condition on SoSB scores and one study reported a negative effect of experimental condition. Results support the notion that SoSB is malleable and can be enhanced through intervention support. All studies appear to incorporate aspects of teacher support and/ or personal characteristics, identified as having the largest effects with SoSB within Allen and colleaguesā€™ meta-analysis (2016). In addition, the data presents a trend towards targeted interventions being more effective than universal interventions, presenting particularly positive effects of SoSB for ā€˜atriskā€™ students. Implications are discussed in regards to the utility and effectiveness of having SoSB interventions being led by members of the school community, and in regards to the potential negative effect of peer contagion when running a group intervention with ā€˜at-riskā€™ youth.

The empirical paper examined the effectiveness of two experimental school-based diary conditions (gratitude diary and appreciation diary) on the promotion of SoSB and positive affect (PA), in comparison to a control condition (event diary). Participants aged 7 to 11 years (M = 8.76) were recruited from five primary schools in the South of England (N = 287). The intervention was carried out as a class, with pupils randomly allocated to either the gratitude, appreciation or event diary condition. Participants completed the diaries daily for three weeks, leading to 15 possible diary entries. Measures of gratitude, SoSB and PA were obtained at pre-intervention, postintervention and at a three-week follow-up, in addition to a pre-intervention measure of nostalgia proneness. Findings revealed that the intervention had been unsuccessful in manipulating gratitude, and ANOVAs for SoSB and PA revealed no significant effect of condition. However, a moderate positive correlation between gratitude, SoSB and PA change scores was noted, suggesting the existence of a relationship between change in gratitude and change in SoSB and PA. Possible explanations for the lack of condition effect in the current study are presented, in addition to limitations of the study in regards to the validity of the gratitude measures used and fidelity to intervention conditions.

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Academic self-concept and sense of school belonging of adolescent siblings of autistic children (2020)

Authors: Alexandra Gregory, Richard P. Hastings and Hanna Kovshoff
Published: 2020
Publication: Research in Developmental Disabilities

Background: Whilst there is a growing body of research on the psychological outcomes for siblings of autistic children (autism siblings), few studies have considered the school context.
Aims: To explore group differences on two school-related self-reported outcomes for autism siblings and siblings of non-autistic children: sense of school belonging, and academic self-concept. Data on self- and parent/carer-reported behavioural and emotional problems were also collected.
Methods and procedures: 65 autism siblings and a comparison group of 57 siblings of non-autistic children aged 11ā€“16 years completed questionnaires measuring sense of school belonging, academic self concept, and behaviour problems. 73 parents in the autism sibling and 67 parents in the comparison sibling group completed the behaviour problems measure.
Outcomes and results: Autism siblings reported significantly lower school belonging and academic self-concept, and had significantly poorer self- and parent- reported behaviour problems. When controlling for demographic variables and internalising and externalizing behaviour, robust sibling group differences on academic variables remained.
Conclusions and implications: Autism siblings reported poorer school-related outcomes and increased behavioural difficulties relative to siblings of non-autistic children. There was wide variation in autism siblingsā€™ outcomes, highlighting the importance of taking an individualised and contextualised approach to understanding the varying needs of autism siblings.

Gregory, A., Hastings, R. & Kovshoff, H. (2020) Academic self-concept and sense of school belonging of adolescent siblings of autistic children. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 96, [103519]. DOI: 10.1016/j.ridd.2019.103519

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Exploring the roles of anxiety, sleep and sense of belonging in school attendance and school refusal behaviour

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Sharon McKenzie
Submitted: June 2016


Reductions in school refusal behaviour (SRB), defined as a general difficulty with attending or remaining in school, have been a longstanding strategic priority for schools, local authorities and central government. Research into risk factors associated with SRB is vital for the development of effective assessment and intervention practices to address the problem. A systematic literature review, embedded within a theoretical framework of risk and resilience, was conducted to appraise the research evidence into anxiety as a risk factor for SRB. Twenty-one studies were reviewed, spanning the past three decades. Support was gained for anxiety as a significant risk factor for SRB in some cases, but not as an overall or central explanation for the problem. The need was highlighted in future research for collective commitment towards addressing a range of terminological, methodological and reporting issues in order to improve comparability between studies, and increase the generalisability of findings. The incorporation of physiological measures of anxiety in conjunction with self-report measures was proposed as a potentially fruitful extension for future investigations.

The empirical paper presented a pilot study which extended previous research comparing anxious high-attenders with anxious low-attenders. The sample comprised 13 girls in Year 8 (n=9) and Year 9 (n=4) attending an average-sized mainstream secondary school, who reported elevated anxiety. The girls were grouped by attendance: high (n=7, M=99.7%, SD=0.63) and low (n=6, M=92.2%, SD=1.58). Physiological measures of psychological stress (i.e. heart rate variability: HRV) and sleep, assessed using electrocardiogram and wrist actigraphy respectively, were incorporated within an exploration of anxiety, sleep and sense of belonging as factors that may differentiate between the two groups. The groups did not differ on sense of belonging or any indices of psychopathology by self-report, nor on any physiological measures of sleep or psychological stress at the beginning of the week. However, the high attendance group showed non-significant trends towards poorer sleep quality and lower HRV, at the end of the week. The findings tentatively challenge the assumption that anxious students who sustain high attendance in school are demonstrating psychological resilience. Implications for Educational Psychology practice and future research are discussed.

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The universal benefits of a sense of school belonging during adolescence: an exploration of the relationships between parental and peer attachment security, shame and pride

Assignment type:Ā Thesis
Author:Ā Alicia Halton-Nathan
Submitted:Ā June 2015


A cross-sectional design was used to explore the associations between adolescent attachment relationships with parents, and peers and their sense of school belonging, on the role of self-conscious emotions (shame and pride), within a school context. An adolescent sample of 13-16 year olds (n=121) was recruited from two secondary schools in the South of England. Participants completed a daily online diary to measure shame and pride experiences. Results found that adolescents with insecure parental attachments experienced more shame on a daily basis than their securely attached peers; however, this relationship was significantly moderated by a sense of belonging in school. Adolescents with secure parental attachment experienced more pride on a daily basis. Sense of belonging in school was found to significantly moderate the positive relationship between secure parental attachment and pride. No significant relationships were found between peer attachment and shame and pride. Implications for Educational Psychologists and suggested directions for future research are also discussed.

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Establishing the effectiveness of a gratitude diary intervention on childrenā€™s sense of school belonging (2016)

Assignment type: Research Project (Applied Research Project, Year 1)
Authors: Tara Diebel, Colin Woodcock, Claire Cooper & Catherine Brignell
Submitted: 2011

Aim: The promotion of wellbeing in schools using evidence-based interventions from the field of Positive Psychology is a growing area of interest. These interventions are based on the principle that sustainable changes in wellbeing can be achieved through regularly engaging in simple and intentional activities. This study examines the effectiveness of a school-based gratitude diary intervention to promote school belonging for primary school aged pupils (age range 7-11 years). Continue reading