What’s Up in the Lab: Fall 2017

We meant to post this in August… and now here we are in October. Fortunately our excuse is also our good news.

It’s fall! Yes, already!

Namely: there’s so much cool stuff happening in the lab right now that it’s tough to find time to write about all of it.

I’d like to say this semester started off with a bang, but it’s really been a two-month long series of bangs. We’ve finished off data collection and analysis for several projects, and started more than a few new ones. We conquered the mid-September CHI deadline, submitted a new NSF grant application, and are gearing up to tackle the November 1st ICA deadline. On top of that, we’ve had a number of papers accepted to top publications in communication and technology

We have an incredible team this semester: several faculty members, two postdocs, a number of graduate students, and over 20 undergraduate research assistants are working together to ensure the success of all of these projects.

Here are some highlights:

New Directions for Cyberbullying Prevention

We’ve posted before about the importance of bystander intervention in stopping cyberbullying. Over the past year or so, we’ve finished a project looking at how features of social media sites, and the conversations that happen on them, might impact how willing people are to intervene against cyberbullying. We’ve followed that up with a new project that actually tests those features in a natural social media environment. These research projects are currently under review — we’ll post about them in more detail soon!

Virtual Reality and Mental Health

VR & Mental Health project leader Kaylee Kruzan tests out a virtual environment.

We’re working with the Virtual Embodiment Lab, led by Andrea Won, on a project that aims to help people with anxiety and other mental health concerns better manage their well-being. Virtual reality technology has a lot of potential to be useful in a variety of different communication and health contexts, from raising awareness about environmental issues, to assisting with perspective-taking, to helping people with PTSD. But there’s still a lot that’s not understood about how we respond to being transported into these virtual environments, especially around how we sense our bodies when we can’t actually see them. This study is going to test a few different methods to help people manage anxiety by transforming their bodies and their environments.

Social Robots and Privacy

Whether we know it or not, our lives are increasingly home to what researchers are calling social robots- things like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, and numerous other devices that come equipped with voice-activated assistants. There’s a lot we don’t know about how these devices impact our lives and our behavior. Because these devices often end up in our private spaces, and can have access to important personal information, it’s important to understand how we think of personal privacy when we interact with them. This project aims to find out how our perceptions of trust impact our behavior around social robots, and eventually how we can design robots that better respect our privacy.

Communication & Tech in Marriage

Communication technologies, such as text messaging, social media, and phone calls, are used to maintain relationships of all types, but what impact does this technology have on well-being? How are intimate relationships of couples being transformed by the capabilities allowed by these new communication methods? To examine this phenomenon, our group is looking at the effects of such technology and how it shapes the well-being of married, cohabitating couples. Do they text their partner when they’re sad? Does this change their mood? We are currently developing a smartphone application that collects communication meta-data, such as timestamps, from text messages, cell phone calls, and Facebook use, as well as survey data, to gather information to answer these questions.

Social Media for Education

Apart from all of these research-focused projects, we’ve been working on translating our research findings into educational materials. One project aims to fill a big gap in social media literacy education for young people. That is, while kids might learn about smart social media behavior in school, they don’t get a chance to practice their skills in on a safe website. We’ve built a new tool- essentially a social media simulation — that lets kids work on their skills while ensuring that any mistakes they make won’t come back to haunt them online or off.

That’s not all! We’re working on lots more projects this semester, and gearing up for several more for next semester. Want to learn more or get involved? You can find our info at sml.comm.cornell.edu. You can also follow us on Twitter at @CUSocialMedia.

Here’s to a great semester!