New technologies emerge every year, and with them, new possibilities to help improve the effectiveness of health and risk communication strategies and messages. Here at CHRC, we strive to reveal those possibilities not only through our own research, but also by promoting the work of colleagues across the Grady College and the University of Georgia. Four programs or technologies that can achieve health or risk communication goals are the Grady College’s New Media Institute, gaming, virtual reality, and social media.
The NMI is a place for students to learn how to use and develop new technologies – mobile apps, social media – to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of communication activities. The energy and creativity these young people show is truly inspiring. After helping to organize the TEDxUGA event on their campus, one speaker helped bring attention to how nutrition and lifestyle can have a profoundly positive impact on life expectancy for millennials. This has evolved into the New Media Health Innovation Program, a partnership with Athens Regional Health System that involves developing new strategies to improve their health communication using new technology.
There is much promise and potential in interactive technologies when it comes to health and risk communication – including the using of “gaming” as a way to teach people about health issues, health risks, and about behaviors that can benefit their health. This is particularly true when it comes to connecting with young people about health or risks. Grace Ahn, a Grady College assistant professor working in health communication, recently tweeted a link to an article that covered research done by computer scientists at the University of Southern California, which utilized Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect sensor to detect physical signs of depression. The software they designed called “SimSensei” had a life-like virtual avatar that asked study participants a series of questions. By measuring a wide range of subtle physical movements, such as gaze aversion, leaning forward or backward, fidgeting, and even “smile level,” the software was able to determine which patients were diagnosed with depression with 90% accuracy. In Ahn’s tweet, she noted, “I had to use a very elaborate experimental design to make this possible, and now all you need is a Kinect.”
Assistant Professor Grace Ahn has a virtual reality laboratory where health and risk messages can be evaluated. Ahn is using the most advanced virtual reality technology available to conduct her research on a number of health communication-related subjects. Ahn earned her Ph.D. at Stanford University, where she studied how virtual reality environments either as an intervention, or as means of delivering messages, can influence behavior. In one study, she assessed whether cutting down a virtual redwood tree would foster more paper-conserving behavior than just reading about it. In her experiment, she had one group of subjects wear a helmet that projected a 3-D image and use a “haptic device” that simulated the feel of an actual chainsaw. The study participants were able to viscerally experience the effects of deforestation. The other group read a detailed description of the same experience. Both groups also read a brochure on how paper waste contributes to deforestation. Afterwards, Ahn “accidentally” spilled water and observed the amount of napkins they used to clean it up. The group that had the virtual reality experience used fewer napkins to clean up the spill.
People routinely use social media to share information about health, health-related risks, media stories, and guidance/recommendations related to health or potential risks. The Grady College Center for Health and Risk Communication can provide access to experts in social media, from people who study how social media is being used to people who analyze and assess social media content to people up-to-date with the latest social media technologies and best practices.
CHRC provides access to the human and technological resources available through UGA’s campus community. Whether you are conducting academic research or working toward real world health communication applications, we are a dynamic, interdisciplinary team with an array of research interests, experiences, and published work ready to consult on your next project. CONTACT US COPY NEEDS EDITING AFTER SPEAKING TO GLEN.