Jeramey Jannene

UWM Professor Studying How To Improve Pandemic Communication

Researchers want to provide media and educators suggestions on how to better communicate health information.

By - Aug 13th, 2020 06:31 pm

3D medical illustration of 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by https://www.scientificanimations.com [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

3D medical illustration of 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by https://www.scientificanimations.com (CC BY-SA)

A team of scientists from UW-Milwaukee and three other universities will study how to effectively communicate with the public about the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers will look at how people perceive communication and make subsequent personal health decisions.

UW-Milwaukee researcher and assistant professor Min Sook Park is part of a team led by Cameron Byerley of the University of Georgia. A doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and a faculty member from Arizona State University are also participating.

“This will help citizens be better prepared for other, similar health issues,” said Park, an assistant professor in the School of Information Studies. “My role is to better understand how data literacy is related to people’s informed decisions regarding their health behaviors and their personal health risk in the case of the COVID-19 crisis.”

The team will attempt to build on previous research that found many people have difficulty translating representations into personal health decisions, according to a UW-Milwaukee press release.

They’re working to generate advice and suggestions on improving data representations through a website made available to educators and media outlets. UW-Milwaukee anticipates incorporating the findings into its undergraduate courses.

The team has already found evidence that animation improves understanding.

“If a graph is moving – the experience of time is built into it – [then] people don’t have to track the change of time on the axes. It would just be built into the animation,” said Byerley.

Animated graphics, particularly early in the pandemic, circulated online showing how a small increase in cases could result in an exponential number of cases. One from the Washington Post became a viral sensation and could be found circulating widely on many social media platforms.

Park has published multiple papers on the intersection of health information, personal behavior and social media. She holds a PhD in information studies from Florida State University and has served as a professor at UW-Milwaukee since 2017.

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