Nika and Self-Focused Attention

This week we want to give you a little insight into how Nika works. Nika analyzes digital activity using more than 30 science-based factors to identify mental health challenges in tweens and teens. Today we’d like to introduce you to one of those - Self-Focused Attention.

How Nika uses self-focused attention and language to identify potential mental health challenges

Does it ever seem like your tween or teen believes the world revolves around them?

If so, I can assure you you’re not imagining it. Although it can be incredibly annoying and frustrating, egocentrism is a normal aspect of tween/teen development. It may be hard to believe, but there are actually positive aspects to egocentrism during these stages of development. A healthy level of egocentrism helps tweens and teens break away from the family (in a good way) and develop their unique sense of self and identity.

However, egocentrism is not always positive. For some, egocentrism can lead to an inflated sense of self and overconfidence. In these cases, tweens and teens may convince themselves that peers are jealous of and plotting against them. For others, it can lead to negative beliefs about themselves, feeling radically different from others (in a negative way), and feeling as though they’re alone in the world.

Focusing on oneself is referred to as Self-Focused Attention (SFA), which can be public (social media posts, texting) or private (thoughts). Research shows that SFA is closely related to depression and anxiety. Rumination, a particular type of SFA may play an important role in this relationship.

At times we all get overly focused on a particular feeling, emotion, idea, or challenge. When this becomes problematic is if we fall into a repetitive, persistent, and negative cycle of thinking that mainly centers around the self. It’s normal to think about negative events, but problems arise when we cannot break out of the repetitive cycle of rumination.

As much as I’d love to discuss more of the science on SFA and rumination, let’s turn our attention to how this can help us identify tweens and teens that may be dealing with mental health challenges.

Based on science, research, and a whole lot of conversations, we built Nika to analyze language for signs of excessive self-focused attention. For example, research shows that depressed people use 200% more first-person pronouns (I, me, my) than non-depressed people.

We’re not stopping at just identifying increases in use of first-person pronouns. Nika also examines whether the person is communicating about negative or positive events, emotions, or moods. This way we can determine whether a tween/teen may be in one of those negative rumination cycles and headed toward mental health issues.

Does an increase in self-focused attention mean definitively that a person is depressed? Not necessarily. However, identifying and making parents aware of this sort of activity and language (and doing so as early as possible) may enable parents to help their children reduce or even avoid serious mental health challenges.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll share more ways Nika uses science-based factors to help parents know when their kids may need support and/or help.

Thank you for your contiinued support!