Georgia Tech Receives Google Grant to Study Impact of Pandemic Information Seeking on Vulnerable Populations

Women in masks

Georgia Tech will receive $155,000 from Google’s Covid-19 AI for Social Good program to investigate patterns and impact of pandemic information-seeking amongst vulnerable populations, such as older adults, low-income households, and Black and Hispanic adults. These populations have experienced disproportionately high rates of Covid-19-related death, severe sickness, and life disruptions like job loss.

Factors like higher rates of underlying health problems, reduced access to health care, and structural inequities shape access to critical resources. These same populations, however, also often have less access to the types of online information designed to improve health outcomes.

This project, led by principal investigator Andrea Grimes Parker, an associate professor in the School of Interactive Computing and member of the Institute for People and Technology, will investigate how vulnerable and marginalized populations use technology for information seeking during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the impact of information exposure on their psychological wellbeing over time.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought further attention to systemic disparities in health that have long existed in the United States,” Parker said. “Within a public health crisis, the information that people are exposed to has huge implications for how attitudes around the pandemic are shaped, how people respond, and thus the course of the pandemic.

“Our work will provide both qualitative and quantitative evidence of the particular ways in which Covid-19 information exposure is tied to outcomes such as mental health in those most vulnerable to Covid-19 mortality and morbidity.”

Researchers will examine this information exposure over time. Their findings will help to shape recommendations for crisis information communication, particularly online, in the future. This work builds upon existing work by Parker and collaborators at Northeastern University.

Parker and colleagues Professors Miso Kim and Dr. Jacqueline Griffin began their collaboration investigation how well crisis apps – mobile apps designed to provide help during emergency situations – support older adults. This work was published at the 2020 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

When the pandemic began, they expanded their focus to additional groups of vulnerable to poor health, such as low-income and racial and ethnic minority populations. The team, in collaboration with Professor Stacy Marsella, also expanded their focus beyond crisis apps, designing a survey to investigate information seeking practices in vulnerable populations amidst the pandemic.

This survey has been distributed to over 600 individuals in Massachusetts and Georgia to date. Parker’s new Google funding will enable the team to iterate on and expand the dissemination of this survey, conduct longitudinal analyses, and compliment the quantitative analysis with a qualitative component that will help unpack the nuances behind information-seeking practices and resulting Covid-19 attitudes, behaviors, and mental health outcomes.

This funding is part of’s $100 million commitment to Covid-19 relief efforts. Organizations receiving funds were selected through a competitive review. Funding focus areas include health equity, disease spread monitoring and forecasting, frontline health worker support, secondary public health effects, and privacy-preserving contact tracing efforts.

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