COVID-19 Research


Design for Emergency 

Co-PI’s:

Paolo Ciuccarelli, Professor and Director, Center for Design, College of Arts, Media and Design

Sara Colombo, Associate Research Scientist, Center for Design, College of Arts, Media and Design 

This project consists of a set of initiatives we are launching to face the COVID-19 emergency through design. The first step is to collect information on the experiences of people living in areas heavily affected by coronavirus who cannot leave their homes. We would like to understand their fears, problems, and hopes, as well as how their habits are changing in this moment. Our goal is to quickly design new solutions to address the specific issues of people facing this emergency – solutions that will entertain, connect, and support individuals and communities in new ways. Based on the results of the surveys, we are launching open design challenges that address the problems, needs and emotions of people living in confinement in different countries.


Visualizing COVID-related Discourse on Twitter

Co-PI’s:

Pedro Cruz, Assistant Professor, Art + Design, College of Arts, Media and Design

John Wihbey, Assistant Professor, Journalism, College of Arts, Media and Design

Aleszu Bajak, Program Manager, Journalism, College of Arts, Media and Design

This summer, the Co-Lab for Data Impact is exploring a large Twitter dataset that encompasses millions of messages relating to COVID-19/novel coronavirus, working in partnership with Lazer Lab and the Network Science Institute. The Co-Lab team is aiming to provide new insights into the shape of public conversation around the pandemic crisis and the types of news and information being shared, and to produce visual representations of the wide varieties of topics and modes of expression.


Fact-Checking Information as a Tool to Combat Spread of Fake News during COVID-19

Lead PI:

Myo Chung, Assistant Professor, Journalism, College of Arts, Media and Design

As COVID-19 has spread around the globe, conspiracy theories and rumors have also gone viral on social media platforms. As World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in February, “We are not just fighting an epidemic; we are fighting an infodemic.” However, identifying fake news about COVID-19 is a greater challenge than one might assume; while 84% of Americans said they were very confident or somewhat confident in identifying fake news, studies found that most Americans failed to recognize fake news and even believed such false information to be true.

Scholars and practitioners have discussed fact-checking as an important tool to deter the massive diffusion of fake news particularly in times of health crisis. However, it remains understudied whether and how fact-checking information lessens intentions to share COVID-19 fake news on social media. Also, little is known how the effect of fact-checking interacts with other contextual cues provided in social media, such as social media metrics (i.e., number of likes and shares). This project will launch a series of online experiments that examine the effect of fact-checking on deterring the spread of fake news about COVID-19.


Collaborative Research: Examining Crowdsourced COVID-19 Experts

Co-PI’s:

Brooke Foucault Welles, Associate Professor, Communication, College of Arts, Media and Design

Larissa Doroshenko, Communication, College of Arts, Media and Design

John Wihbey, Journalism, College of Arts, Media and Design

David Lazer, Khoury College of Computer Sciences / College of Social Sciences and Humanities

As the information about the pandemic shifts on a near-hourly basis, people have turned to social media for rapid dissemination of information about COVID-19. This information is variable in quality, and subject to manipulation by malicious actors. It is vitally important to leverage experts to spread scientifically accurate information online. This project focuses on Twitter, a key information source for citizens, journalists, and politicians alike. Prior research by Foucault Welles and colleagues suggests that, during moments of high-stakes, geographically local events, people tend to eschew national news and political leaders in favor of local and regional. Further, research consistently shows that behavior change campaigns (including those designed to spread accurate information about COVID-19 mitigation, treatment, eventual vaccination, etc.) are considerably more effective when local opinion leaders are enlisted to encourage their adoption and compliance. We have developed a method of identifying locally-influential Twitter opinion leaders to assist in rapidly spreading high-quality information about the novel coronavirus. We call these locally-influential opinion leaders Crowdsourced COVID-19 Experts, defined for our purposes as Twitter users who are collectively deemed (through community retweeting and mentioning), to be trusted sources of COVID-19 information within their local communities. We expect these people will often – though not always – have local geographic ties. More importantly, we expect those deemed trustworthy will vary by geographic location, depending on a myriad of factors including local demographics, political partisanship, access to local news, local healthcare quality, and the severity of local COVID-19 outbreaks. Using Twitter data panel (provided by our collaborators) we will computationally identify Crowdsourced COVID-19 Experts at the county level. We will assess their communication for impact and scientific validity, then produce a list of Crowdsourced COVID-19 experts that can be used as trusted partners in spreading timely, accurate information about COVID-19. We will make the list available to local and state leaders (elected officials, public health officials, etc.) and to regular Twitter users via curated lists.


StudyCrafter COVID-19 Community Effort

Lead PI:

Casper Harteveld, Associate Professor, Game Design, College of Arts, Media and Design

StudyCrafter is a free playful platform where users can create, play, and share research projects to understand human behavior. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a health crisis around the world, offering new opportunities for the StudyCrafter team to educate the public about COVID-19 and get a better understanding of how the public views this outbreak. By playing our COVID-19 Community Projects, members of the public can learn about the pandemic and contribute to science.


Examining Information-Seeking During COVID-19

Co-PI’s:

Miso Kim, Assistant Professor, Experience Design, College of Arts, Media and Design

Jacqueline Griffin, Assistant Professor, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, College of Engineering

COVID-19 is profoundly impacting our world, with some populations in the United States being affected especially severely. For example, older adults and low-income households are more vulnerable to social isolation, poor health and economic challenges amidst COVID-19. Individuals of Chinese descent face increased threats to mental health due to racism and xenophobia associated with COVID-19. Black Americans are experiencing disproportionately high rates of COVID-19-related death and severe sickness, due to factors such as increased rates of underlying health problems, reduced healthcare access, and bias in the healthcare system. During this pandemic, millions of Americans are turning to the Internet to gather information about COVID-19, such as the progression of the pandemic, how to prevent its spread, and how to cope with its profound social, cultural, and economic implications. Information-seeking online has thus become a crucial lifeline for many individuals as they search for knowledge and resources to counteract a myriad of social, health, safety, and financial COVID-19 challenges. At the same time, this vital information may be less accessible to populations such as low-income and older adults. Furthermore, information-seeking can also exacerbate the challenges faced by vulnerable populations (e.g., through access to content that introduces anxiety and misinformation). There is a need for research that investigates the digital information-seeking practices of vulnerable and marginalized populations amidst COVID-19, the barriers to and impact of information-seeking amongst these populations, and opportunities for creating digital COVID-19 information that better serves these communities.

Through this project, we will conduct an experience sampling method (ESM) study to investigate how vulnerable populations are using technology for information-seeking and psychological coping during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact of such information-seeking on psychological wellbeing (e.g., depression and anxiety) and behavior (e.g., adherence to COVID-19 prevention recommendations). ESM entails repeated capture of participants’ real-time behaviors, psychological states, and contexts as a crisis is unfolding, and helps minimize participant recall biases inherent in studies conducted after a crisis has passed. Using Qualtrics and in partnership with our community organization networks, we will recruit adults from populations experiencing significant hardship amidst COVID-19: older adults, racial and ethnic groups including Black and Chinese Americans, and low-income households. Participants will be asked to complete a weekly survey over 4 months that assesses their information-seeking behaviors, attitudes and indicators of wellbeing: COVID-19 information consumed (e.g., disease prevalence statistics, prevention strategies), information features (e.g., the inclusion of images, level of interactivity), information channel (e.g., website, social media), platform used to access information (e.g., phone, laptop, tablet, TV), contextual factors (e.g., where information was consumed, weather), mental health, COVID-19 related attitudes (e.g., regarding the severity of the pandemic, sense of autonomy and perceived control), and COVID-19 related behaviors (e.g., social distancing practices). We will conduct quantitative analyses to identify correlations in this data set that will establish relationships between demographics, information seeking characteristics, and behavioral and psychological outcomes. We will also use the ESM data to drive interviews with participants that provide deeper insight into the practice and impact of information seeking during a pandemic amongst vulnerable populations.


SoundHealth.io: An Interdisciplinary Network for Music and Health

Lead PI:

Psyche Loui, Assistant Professor, Director MIND Lab (Music Imaging and Neural Dynamics), Music Technology

This project will bring to life SoundHealth.io, a unique interdisciplinary virtual research network to build upon the substantial progress made over recent years in the effects of music on social and cognitive well-being. Our proposal will build a truly interdisciplinary virtual hub for research in the effects of music for social bonding, by enabling sustained communication, establishing cooperative experimental standards and visions for the future, and building advanced data tools to support their attainment, while centrally sharing our advances with the public.

Music and health are both fundamental to everyday life. Throughout the years and in the COVID-19 pandemic era especially, humans have turned to music as a source of healing and social bonding. As such, the public is engaged and interested to learn about research in music and health. As Sound Health is fundamentally about relating sounds to health outcomes, an open-source data-sharing platform for sound health requires intimately linking acoustical stimulation in sounds to health outcomes via a variety of data types. A data infrastructure that links sound and health data will stimulate data-mining for new discoveries that inform the relationship between music and health with increasing specificity and sensitivity.


Evaluating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Risk Communication Strategies: A Content Analysis of Social Media Messages Spread During the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

Co-PI’s:

Susan Mello, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies, College of Arts, Media and Design

Elizabeth Glowacki, Postdoctoral Teaching Associate, Communication Studies, College of Arts, Media and Design

During health crises, public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a duty to distribute timely, relevant, and accurate risk information to vulnerable populations. As public information environments are increasingly complicated by politicized news sources, misinformation, and rapid sharing via social media, effective risk information also requires careful development of educational materials that are appropriate for their intended audiences and directly address public concerns (Covello, 2003; Holmes, Henrich, Hancock, & Lestou, 2009; Lundgren & McMakin, 2018; Page, Freberg, & Saling, 2013; Vos & Buckner, 2016). The CDC has employed various evidence-based communication strategies and channels to disseminate information during contemporary public health crises, including outbreaks of acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS (2003) H1N1/swine flu (2009), Ebola (2014), multistate foodborne illnesses, and e-cigarette related lung injuries (2019) to name a few(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). Unlike these past outbreaks, the recent 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic has presented greater challenges for reaching audiences due to its uniqueness as a virus, high transmissibility, and extended scope of infection (Argenti, 2020; National Institutes of Health, 2020; Yuen, Ye, Fung, Chan, & Jin, 2020).

The goal of this project is to use evidence-based risk communication principles to examine the CDC’s social media messaging strategies during the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak. Specifically, we will perform a quantitative content analysis to describe such features selected communication channels and modalities (i.e., Instagram feed, Youtube channel), message framing strategies (e.g., attributions of responsibility, cultural values), efforts to counter misinformation, and attempts to cultivate (using audio, video, and text) public perceptions of threat and efficacy in the midst of this pandemic. For this project, the content analysis will involve collecting, reviewing, and coding messages spread by the CDC on social media platforms. In addition to examining the features of these messages, we also plan to chart if and how these strategies evolve over time, and whether attempts are made to engage stakeholders through interactive channel features (e.g., soliciting and responding to public concerns).


Human Connections, Community Resilience: Digital Theatre & Performance in a Time of Social Distancing

Lead PI:

Dani Snyder-Young, Assistant Professor, Theatre, College of Arts, Media and Design

This study examines the ways humans are forging connection in digital environments via performance, with a particular eye to the ways in which people are using rehearsed and scripted performance forms as we adapt to social distancing measures required to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  Questions to be examined include: How are humans using formal performance forms to adapt to social distancing measures required to mitigate the spread of COVID-19? How does performance facilitate human connection in digital environments? How do the digital performances we experience consolidate or expand existing networks of social capital? How do the digital performances we experience reveal, navigate, or mask social hierarchies and material inequalities?

In spring and summer 2020, the research team will collect digital ethnographic data and analysis.  The team will attend digital performance events of various forms as participant-observers, keeping field notes and analytic memos making sense of audience/participant experiences of these events. We’ll track themes emerging from across events and theorize the ways in which people are using scripted, rehearsed performances in digital environments during the period of prescribed social distancing.  Concurrently with this process, the team will develop an annotated bibliography of readings on digital performance and write literature review memos situating what we see within the current conversation on digital performance. We will develop grounded theory from this process to theorize the ways in which humans make use of scripted, rehearsed performance forms to adapt to social distancing measures.