Difficulties in emotion regulation are common in adolescence and are associated with poor social and mental health outcomes. However, psychological therapies that promote adaptive emotion regulation may be inaccessible and unattractive to youth. Digital interventions may help address this need.
The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to synthesize evidence on the efficacy, feasibility, and acceptability of emotion regulation digital interventions in children and early adolescents aged 8 to 14 years.
Systematic searches of Web of Science, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE, Education Resources Information Centre, ACM Digital Library, and IEEE Xplore up to July 2020 identified 39 studies, of which 11 (28%) were included in the meta-analyses (n=2476 participants). A bespoke tool was used to assess risk of bias.
The studies evaluated digital games (27/39, 69%), biofeedback (4/39, 10%), virtual or augmented reality (4/39, 10%), and program or multimedia (4/39, 10%) digital interventions in samples classified as diagnosed, at risk, healthy, and universal. The most consistent evidence came from digital games, which reduced negative emotional experience with a small significant effect, largely in youth at risk of anxiety (Hedges g=-0.19, 95% CI -0.34 to -0.04). In general, digital interventions tended to improve emotion regulation, but this effect was not significant (Hedges g=0.19, 95% CI -0.16 to 0.54).
Most feasibility issues were identified in diagnosed youth, and acceptability was generally high across intervention types and samples. Although there is cause to be optimistic about digital interventions supporting the difficulties that youth experience in emotion regulation, the predominance of early-stage development studies highlights the need for more work in this area.
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