Student scientists examine the impacts of TikTok at BTYSTE

7 Jan 2021

Students Chiara Lisa Carra and Elysia O’Leary with their BTYSTE 2021 project. Image: © Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

From push notifications to the effects of TikTok during lockdown, BTYSTE students are examining societal challenges in the digital age.

The BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE) sees a variety of themes emerging every year.

Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 played a large part in this year’s virtual exhibition. In fact, speaking at the BT Nextipedia event, BT Ireland managing director Shay Walsh said Covid-19 featured in around 25pc of projects this year.

Another major theme was sustainability as many students looked for innovative ways to reduce their environmental impact and improve the agriculture industry.

But other societal issues such as gender imbalances and the impacts of social media also featured heavily this year, as students investigated the challenges they face in the world around them.

Challenges in the digital age

‘TikTok AfterShock’ is a project from three students at Jesus & Mary Secondary School in Co Galway. In their project, Cliodhna McDonald, Emma Dillon and Sarah Casserly wanted to assess if TikTok had a negative impact on teenagers’ body image during the lockdown period.

“We’re all really interested in the social and behavioural side of science and we have connections to the psychology and psychiatry departments in NUIG and the hospital,” said McDonald. “This meant that we were able to talk to doctors and professors and they were able to help us.”

While the students’ survey results supported their hypothesis that the use of TikTok had a negative impact on body image and self-esteem, Dillon said it was “shocking” to see how many participants were affected in a harmful way.

“Three-quarters of people felt pressure to look different by the end of lockdown. We also found that more than half of people felt pressure to go on a diet or eat less and 70pc of people felt pressure to work out more,” she said.

Casserly said one of the solutions they suggested was to talk to the TikTok team in Dublin about how to reduce the “constant and sometimes unhelpful videos being shown to teenagers’ TikTok feeds”.

Another project with a focus on digital content was from Coláiste An Phiarsaigh in Co Cork. Caoímhin Ó Murchú, Shane Hourigan and Darragh McSweeney wanted to find out how much people use their phones and the impact of push notifications.

‘We must conclude that most teenagers cannot live a single day without push notifications’

The experiment required a number of students to send screenshots of their daily phone usage with push notifications turned on. Phone usage screenshots were then sought after a day of having push notifications switched off for each person’s top three apps.

“With push notifications turned on, the average teenager uses their phone for four hours and 42 minutes every single day.” said Ó Murchú. “We also found that the top three apps used by teenagers are Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube.”

However, their results also found that only 38pc of students turned off their push notifications when instructed to do so. “From this, we must conclude that most teenagers cannot live a single day without push notifications,” said Ó Murchú. He added that the results showed the average teenager receives 92 notifications per day. For those who did turn off notifications, the students found that phone usage decreased by 39pc.

Gender imbalances and menstrual health

In 2020, an ad for tampons led to an onslaught of complaints in Ireland. This led Sadhbh Bourke and Orla Lynch to their project, ‘Code Red’.

The students from St Mary’s Secondary School in Cork investigated the attitudes towards menstrual health and environmentally friendly menstrual products in Ireland using a survey of more than 600 women aged between 13 and 50.

“Following our research, we realised that age had a significant effect on how comfortable respondents felt discussing menstruation, how educated they felt regarding menstruation and the range of menstrual products available,” said Bourke.

They found that responses around these topics were generally positive. “However, we noticed that when we showed pictures of specific environmentally friendly menstrual products, responses were not as positive with less participants willing to use the products,” said Bourke.

Another project focused on the division of emotional labour in the home between men and women. Katie Harlow, a student at Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Co Roscommon, aimed to examine this division and suggest how gender imbalances could be rectified.

Harlow defined emotional labour as “the day-to-day planning, organising, remembering, reminding, checking and overseeing that is required for the smooth running of the home”.

While she was hoping to get between 100 and 200 responses, Harlow’s survey generated more than 2,500 responses in 48 hours. She said that while she expected the bulk of emotional labour to fall to women, she found the results staggering.

“One result showed that women married or in a domestic partnership where both partners work in paid employment and do not have children perform four times the amount of emotional labour tasks than men in the same situation.”

Harlow added that her results showed that when children are added to the mix, men’s emotional labour rises a small amount, while women’s emotional labour almost doubles.

“As a society, we need to challenge the notion that women are just better at emotional labour tasks than men,” said Harlow.

Preventing hand cramps

An overriding memory of student life for many adults could be the hand cramps they had from long, handwritten essays and hours of written exams.

Isabelle Ryan, Áine Phelan and Roisin McGrath from Loreto Secondary School in Co Tipperary investigated the effects of hand exercises on students and how they could allow students to write for longer without hand cramps.

For their project, the students had two sample groups complete a writing test. Sample group A completed a series of hand exercises for six weeks and then both groups completed another writing test.

“There was a dramatic decrease in the amount of hand cramps that sample group A experienced, while sample group B’s number stayed the exact same,” said Ryan.

The hand exercises were provided by a physiotherapist to specifically target the areas of the hand that are affected by hand cramps.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic