Exposure to stressful life events is involved in the etiology of most forms of psychopathology. Child- and adolescent-onset disorders are often temporally preceded by a major stressor, and stressful life events occurring early in development explain 30% of all mental disorders across the life-course. Yet, the mechanisms linking stressful life events to the onset of youth psychopathology remain poorly understood.
Changes in emotion, cognition, and behavior occur within days, weeks, and months following stressful life events. Existing research approaches are not capable of detecting fluctuations at this timescale. In contrast, the STAR study is using monthly assessments of stressful life events, psychopathology, and potential emotional, cognitive, and neural mechanisms over a 1-year study period along with continuous passive monitoring of mechanisms involving activity, sleep, and social behavior on smartphones and wearable devices (i.e., digital phenotyping). Our hope is that this intensive longitudinal design will allow us to identify dynamic changes in emotion, behavior, and brain function following stressful life events as they occur in real time.
Participants in the study complete monthly MRI scans, surveys, and interviews that measure levels of stress and mental health over the course of one year. Physical activity, sleep, and social behavior will be passively tracked via smartphone and wearable devices.