Research

Broadly, I am interested in exploring the psychological correlates of a) using technologies to access virtual social environments and b) smartphone use. I believe that the trace data people leave behind, whether it be a series of tweets, Facebook posts, or smartphone applications used daily, can reveal information about a person’s psychological state and experiences. Much has been said about the virtues (e.g., social support, social connection) and evils (e.g., loneliness, FoM) of social media, and as a researcher, I aim to parse out the ways in which it fits into both categories.

Emotion expression on Twitter following collective traumas

In nearly all of my work, I scrape and code Twitter data to explore temporal dynamics of emotion expression in tweets before, during, and after large-scale traumatic events (e.g., school shootings, terrorist attacks). The approach I developed for doing so involves sourcing tweets from users who follow Twitter accounts that are local to a community of interest. This method gets around some of the limitations of using the Twitter Search API: 1) only tweets generated in the past seven days from the date of a search can be downloaded, 2) keyword searches do not guarantee that downloaded tweets come from users who live in a community of interest. Although Twitter tags all tweets with the geocoordinates of where users are when they create a tweet, users can opt out of making this information public -- and most do just that (90-95%). The method I developed circumvents all of these issues and has proven useful for studying the impact of several collective traumas. For details on this method:

Jones, Wojcik, Sweeting, & Silver (Dec 2016) - Tweeting negative emotion: An investigation of Twitter data in the aftermath of violence on college campuses. Psychological Methods.

Jones, Brymer, & Silver (in press) - Using big data to study the impact of mass violence: Opportunities for the traumatic stress field. Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Misinformation online

Some of my work explores how exposure misinformation online may have consequences for how a) people respond psychologically to crisis events and b) make important medical decisions. For example, my colleagues and I examined rumor exposure in the context of a university shooting and lockdown in which critical updates from the university were scarce. In a large-scale survey of students in the lockdown, we found that exposure to conflicting information about the event was associated with event-related acute stress; we also found that students who used more social media channels and trusted them for critical updates during the lockdown reported more acute stress than students who trusted social media less. During this lockdown, students who used Twitter for critical updates reported more exposure to conflicting information/rumors. We supplemented our large-scale survey with Twitter data scraped from users who followed main university Twitter accounts and we found that, as rumor theory suggests, rumors were generated when official updates were scarce and that spikes in rumor transmission tracked with negative emotion expression over time.

Jones, Thompson, Dunkel Schetter, & Silver (Oct 2017) - Distress and rumor exposure on social media during a campus lockdown. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

In a lab study with colleagues in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, I am exploring how exposure to misinformation about cholesterol medications on the web leads participants to instruct a hypothetical older relative to avoid these drugs, despite the preponderance of evidence that they are beneficial to overall health. The data for this project are currently being analyzed!

Media exposure to collective trauma

We live in a world in which unfettered access to up-to-the-minute information about collective traumas is at our fingertips. When disasters strike, sometimes graphic videos and pictures of the aftermath are transmitted via the news and social media channels. Often times, this imagery contains horrible scenes of death and gore. Moreover, this graphic content can be live-streamed on social media and shared with thousands or million of people. There are plenty of examples now where we see mass shootings live-streamed on Facebook, for example. Most people would probably tell you they find this content to be, yet some people watch and share this graphic content. Thus, my colleagues and I try to understand not only why people watch this content, but the psychological consequences of exposure to it.

Jones, Garfin, Holman, & Silver (Sept 2016) - Media use and exposure to graphic content in the week following the Boston Marathon bombings. American Journal of Community Psychology.

Redmond, Jones, Holman, & Silver (Feb 2019) - Who watches an ISIS beheading—and why. American Psychologist.

Thompson, Jones, Holman, & Silver (in press) - Media exposure to mass violence events can fuel a cycle of distress. Science Advances.