February 7, 2022

Adolescent risk behavior through the eyes of artificial intelligence

Today, the European Research Council (ERC) awarded Lifecourse and the Icelandic Institute for Intelligent Machines (IIIM) a grant of EUR 150,000 to bolster research into the risk behavior of adolescents using artificial intelligence methods. The grant is a follow-up to the Lifecourse project, which has been led by Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir, Scientific Director of Planet Youth and Professor at the Faculty of Psychology at Reykjavík University (RU) over the past five years. She and her team have been following a cohort of Icelandic youth over time to explore what predicts their well-being and behavior. Data have been largely collected through the survey data collection study in Iceland, which gives a clear picture of the attitudes, environment, and well-being of youth, and subsequently combined with their respective health data and biological samples. Kristinn R. Thorisson, CEO of IIIM and professor at RU’s Computer Science Department, will now be involved in the project to seek new answers from the database using artificial intelligence methods.

Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir was pleased with the grant and said:

“This is a great honor for us in the research team and especially because the ERC has published that there were many applications this year of a high quality. We are very excited to start continuing research on this important issue and now with new methods‟.

Kristinn R. Thorisson points out that the use of artificial intelligence in social sciences is very innovative and therefore it will be very interesting to be involved in research such as this and adapt artificial intelligence methods to a new field of research.

Caine Meyers, a member of the  Lifecourse team and Research and Evaluation Specialist at Planet Youth, says the advent of artificial intelligence enables researchers to set up hypothetical situations that would otherwise be impossible to study. Collaborating with the expertise and brainpower of IIIM, a kind of biopsychosocial computer simulation model will be set up that will, if successful, allow researchers to generate new hypotheses and even see patterns in the data that otherwise would not have been immediately obvious. This will in fact expand the existing database in some way, but at the same time it will become clearer where the theoretical boundaries of the data lie. Beyond this, there are many possible implications on the horizon (for many stakeholders) such as the potential discovery of new methods in prevention work amongst young people. But of course, the first task is building a successful prototype over the next 18 months. Receiving this grant will make this unique and exciting collaboration possible.

The Young People research has been carried out systematically in the Iceland’s primary and secondary schools in collaboration with municipalities in Iceland since 1999, where the focus has been on the causes of risk behavior in children and adolescents. This collaboration, together with the work of sports clubs, leisure clubs, social and youth representatives, associations, schools and others, has yielded enormous results in reducing the use of alcohol and drugs by young people in Iceland.

A total of 166 research projects received funding from the European Research Council this year, with around 25 million euros to be allocated. The grants are a so-called Proof of Concept Grants under the banner of Horizon Europe.