New Master Theses funded by Digicomlab Thesis Grants

Five new Master Theses receive Digicomlab Thesis Grants

The Research Priority Area Communication and its Digital Communication Methods Lab are happy to announce that four proposals have been selected for the fourth edition of the Digicomlab Thesis Grants. These grants provide financial support for theoretically-relevant and digitally innovative (research) master theses written at the University of Amsterdam’s Graduate School of Communication for semester 1 of the 2021-2022 academic year.


What if we Screenshot all the food we see on social media in a day? A mix-method study: how social media food exposure is associated with eating behaviour.

Connie Chen

In the current study, I aim to objectively measure healthy and unhealthy food post exposure, by having participants share screenshots of their exposure for one day. And we will examine how this exposure impacts norm perceptions regarding food, how this subsequently relates to self-reported eating behavior and the effect is mediated by the message sources (peers, companies and influencers). The study will ask participants to fill out a baseline questionnaire (T1) about their demographics and their food consumptions of the day before, then participants will be trained to take screenshots of any food-related images and videos (including food, brand logos, restaurants, cooking show, food prep, etc.) they receive or/and engage with on social media. Participants upload food-related images/videos encountered on the different social media platforms they happened to be using during 24hrs. Participants will be also asked to take screenshots as soon as they are encountered and upload these at a time and place of convenience (e.g. available Wi-Fi access), to reduce potential compliance barriers or study effect on social media usage. One photo at a time and respondents will answer 1) the social media platform 2) the source: whether it’s from their friends, family, brands or influencers 3) whether they actively search for it or unintentionally come across it . Two daily reminders will also be placed (details to be decided). At the end of the day, they would be asked to fill out another questionnaire (T2) of their food consumption.


Is life brighter when your phone is not? The efficacy of a grayscale smartphone intervention addressing digital well-being: a mixed-method study

Cynthia Dekker

Over the past years, digital well-being has become an increasingly prevalent topic. In response to that trend, many tools have been developed for individuals to monitor smartphone use and improve digital well-being. A relatively understudied but promising self-nudge intervention is turning off smartphone screen colors. Since a grayscale setting is available on all smartphones, it has the potential to be an easily implemented intervention to address digital well-being. Previous research has shown that having a smartphone in grayscale results in significantly less screen time and less enjoyment in using one’s phone (e.g., Holte & Ferraro, 2020). Interestingly, however, this did not lead to an actual decrease in phone pickups, indicating that although using one’s smartphone in grayscale is less gratifying, it does not seem to temper the pre-existing urge to constantly check one’s phone (Holte et al., 2021). No study has yet focused on the effect of a fulltime grayscaling intervention on day-to-day factors of mental and digital well-being (e.g., stress, sleep quality, productivity, online vigilance). To explore whether the grayscale mode could be a valuable intervention to target such outcomes, an experiment will be conducted with the innovative research app Murmuras. Participants’ smartphone use will be tracked for two weeks. The first week serves as a baseline measure (tracking-only), followed by the second week in which the grayscale intervention takes place. Momentary data will be collected regarding general screen time and phone pickups, as well as app-specific behavior. Additionally, participants will receive short surveys every evening to assess daily experiences and well-being.


Cultural Differences in VR Sustainability Advertising: How Perceptions Towards Sustainability Messages in Virtual Reality Differ Based On Cultural Orientation

Laurent Hebette

Finding ways to promote sustainable behaviors is essential in a time where overconsumption is leading to climate change and environmental degradation. Although public awareness of the negative effects of overconsumption is growing, there remains a gap between awareness and behavior change. Recent studies using Virtual Reality (VR) to promote sustainability suggest promising results for increasing people’s sense of responsibility and intentions to adopt sustainable behaviors. However, this research was mostly carried out in the West, and there is a lack of research on how sustainable messages communicated through VR are perceived by individuals from different cultures. Considering the rise of consumption rates in Eastern countries like China and India, it is essential to find ways to promote sustainable behaviors in these cultures as well. To shed light on this lack of research and explore whether perceptions towards sustainability messages in VR are (dis)similar across different cultures, the present study explores how one’s cultural orientation may lead to different perceptions towards sustainability message experienced through VR. This study uses an innovative research approach combining VR with semi-structured interviews, to allow a more in-depth exploration of the varying perceptions experienced by individuals from different cultures when viewing a sustainability message using immersive technology. Throughout the interviews, participants are asked to wear a highly-immersive VR headset and watch an immersive sustainability message developed by UNEP and Sony developers, which educates viewers on climate friendly lifestyles. The perceptions of consumers from different cultural orientations is then analyzed and compared to answer the research question.


We are in this together? An automated content analysis: Severity of the pandemic, political orientation and the framing COVID-19 regulations

Lilian Li

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed various aspects of social life. As Garfin and colleagues (2020) stressed, the public relies heavily on media to make informed decisions during a health crisis. Therefore, it is essential for us to understand the message conveyed by news media during the pandemic. This study examines the relationship between individual/social framing, the severity of the crisis, and political orientation in news coverage of COVID-19 regulations. First, the topic is essentially a social health issue. As previous studies have noted, coverage of social health issue tends to lean towards individual framing which promotes personal behavioral changes (Thompson and Ofori-Parku, 2020). However, a global pandemic requires not only individual efforts, but also joint effort from the society. Hence, the study first aims to discover the salience of individual/social frames. Second, “Public health is inherently political” (Kim and Willis, 2007, p. 361). The framing of regulations must adapt to the rapidly changing situation of the pandemic but also political influences. Therefore, the study aims to answer the following questions 1) Does the political stance of the news outlet affect frame usage? If so, how? 2) How does the severity of the pandemic affect policy support in news outlets with different political stances? An automated content analysis will be performed on 6 news outlets with left/right political orientations. Human coders will identify frame and policy support in news articles based on the codebook. Then, the data will be used to train and test the machine learning model. Upon successful training, the model can be applied to large-scale research.


Feel Like a Number: Perceived Fairness of the Job Application Process through AI

Nirvi Maru

Prolific integration of AI into human lives have resulted in significant growth and reliance on automated decision making (ADM). The discussions around the pros and cons of the reliance on decisions made exclusively by algorithms are profuse. Employment of AI in recruitment processes is an aspect of these discussions. Multiple studies have exhibited the profitable nature of AI integration in recruitment practices due to efficiency in cost and time for the recruiting organization. Despite being cost and time effective, a sense of dissatisfaction has been noted from applicants who have experienced this process. Understanding then, user perceptions of fairness in this system is critical. The proposed study endeavors to explore the impact of the affordances of the medium of AI – chatbot vs. smart forms, and types of explanations provided for the decision output by the algorithm (XAI), on an applicant’s perceived fairness of the process. Simply put, this study specifically focuses on the impact of the medium and the message on the user’s perceptions of the process. For the experiment, a job application process will be simulated as closely as possible. Participants will be led to emulate he role of job applicants, and interact either with a chatbot or fill a smart form, both designed specifically for this study, in order to be selected for the job. At the end of the process, the algorithm will provide a decision to the participant. This decision will be presented with an explanation which will vary in type, viz. global explanation vs. local explanation. Participants’ perceived fairness of the process will then be measured.


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