The Digital Communication Methods Lab, an initiative of the RPA Communication, renewed its support to a series of innovative research projects focused on substantive and methodological development for communication science research in partnership with Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) members.

After a successful round in 2018 and 2019, six new projects have been selected to receive funding for 2020 and complement ongoing activities at the lab.


Augmented and Virtual Reality Applications

Diving into sustainability: Tailoring immersive media about sustainability for children

dr. Hande Sungur and dr. Jessica Piotrowski

While public awareness for environmental protection has been rising, individuals still resist making necessary changes in their daily lives to help. Promoting sustainable behaviour is challenging because consequences of not engaging in these behaviours (e.g., climate change, plastic pollution), tend to be psychologically distant from our reality. Virtual Reality (VR) technology provides the opportunity to bring psychologically distant events closer and allow audiences to engage in important but typically “distant” topics such as sustainability in a unique way. While there is great interest in integration of digital tools such as VR in education, especially in the field of sustainability, there is still much that we do not know about using immersive environments with children. This project by taking into developmental considerations into account aims to improve our understanding of designing effective immersive experiences for children. Specifically, we will be working on designing a developmentally appropriate VR environment that aims to educate children about plastic pollution in oceans.

Let’s get emotional: Using VR to enhance pro-environmental behaviors by stimulating emotions

dr. Marijn H. C. Meijers, dr. Anke Wonneberger, Heather Torfadottir MSc., and Dr. Ewa. Maslowska (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Once people experience the consequences of climate change (e.g., a heat wave or a flood), they are more likely to perceive climate change as an actual threat and are, therefore, more likely to act in a pro-environmental manner. We posit that Virtual Reality (VR) offers an innovative manner to allow people to experience the consequences of climate change (e.g., experiencing a flood). In this project, we will investigate what emotional responses (e.g., fear, anger) can be triggered by such a VR experience, measured using psychophysiological measures. Via ecological momentary assessment on participants’ smartphones we will study how these emotions can subsequently influence pro-environmental behaviors over time.


Automated Content Analysis

Modeling the Temporal Dynamics of the Deliberative Quality in Online Debate

dr. Mark Boukes, dr. Anne C. Kroon and dr. Theo Araujo

This project investigates the following research question: How do online discussions take shape and what kind of user-comments may evoke subsequent comments of a higher/lower deliberative quality? We will analyze the content of user-comments on social media and statistically model how discussions evolve over time to predict how certain types of response influence the nature of later posted user-comments. Concretely, we first do a manual content analysis that functions as input for supervised machine learning to identify critical dimensions of deliberative debate. Second, we analyze the interactions between users in terms of temporal dynamics using Markov chain models.

Using Machine Learning to Understand and Predict Online Sexual Health Conversations and Determinants of Behavior Change

dr. Annemarie van Oosten and dr. Damian Trilling

This project is the first to use unsupervised and supervised machine learning of online sexual health conversations among Dutch users to better understand and predict such conversations. This innovative project aims to predict when and how determinants of sexual health related behavior change (i.e., attitudes, social norms, self-efficacy regarding condom use and STD testing) occur in online conversations. Based on these findings, an online monitoring tool will be created that can be used in detecting at risk youth based on trajectories of online conversations.


Mobile Communication and Media Exposure

Advancing the assessment of mobile media fingerprints

dr. Susanne Baumgartner and dr. Sindy Sumter

To better understand the effects of mobile media use on well-being, scholars need to be able to accurately and unobtrusively measure mobile media use. Thus, the main aim of this project is to validate a new methodological approach to capture mobile media usage. Based on screen video recordings of users’ iOS battery section, we develop and validate a python script that automatically codes these videos. Three key questions will be answered: (1) How accurate and reliable are our automated content analyses of mobile media use data? (2) Is our new method suitable for an older and less digitally savvy target group?, and (3) What is the best way to translate our raw data into interpretable data units, e.g. reflecting mobile media fingerprints/identities?

Mapping the mobile news diet (MAPMOB)

dr. Damian Trilling, dr. Judith Möller, Felicia Loecherbach, MSc. (VU), and dr. Wouter van Atteveldt (VU)

More and more news consumption happens on mobile devices. Yet, researchers lack methods to observe and measure which news people are exposed to on such devices. In particular, because of the closed nature of mobile phone operating systems, and the self-contained structure of apps, it is much more challenging to collect digital trace data then it is on laptops and desktop computers. MAPMOP explores and evaluates the possibility of combining synced browsing histories, news app data, and social media take-out data (sometimes referred to as GDPR-requests) to approximate people’s mobile news exposure. We develop a workflow (and necessary software scripts) to extract such information from mobile phones.