Capturing the emotional trip of COVID19

Pedro Almeida | May 4, 2020

No one in their right mind is saying it is over… most probably far from it actually, but these weeks have been an absolute emotional roller coaster as we watch disease counts and death tolls displayed every day on national television, and start to see some light as some countries flatten the curve.
With so many unknowns, the moment is for all to join efforts and contribute in any way we can to produce knowledge that helps policy makers deal with the outbreak, and design and communicate effectively measures to promote public health.

With this in mind, we started in early March (and are proud to have been joined by the School of Medicine of the University of Minho, Portugal since then) monitoring the responses of a panel of Portuguese participants, as they watch the prime-time news. We were able to capture the entire “emotional trip” of viewers as the pandemic started taking shape (on the week when the initial cases were reported), to accelerating and then starting to flatten.

Our main focus is to understand how communication can be designed to induce the proper emotional responses in most people hearing them to motivate them to comply with governmental recommendations, while at the same time avoiding stress related mental conditions. The line between arousing someone to make them move and arouse them so much that we may be causing panic seems to be a thin one to navigate on.

Up to now we have gathered electrodermal, declarative and survey data from over 600 accumulated records across 7 weeks, and in the next few posts we will be looking at the insights we get from fusing arousal data with the specific events, words, expressions and themes in the news, and bringing a big data framework to EDA analysis.

The fear and the relief

What it seems is that a couple of emotionally intense weeks (the dark period), in which the news was not good, and people were stressed and concerned, were effective in promoting mobility restraint that seems to hold beyond the emotional impact of the period.

Is this good? The latest data on growth shows that Portugal is indeed being able to control numbers (by now), without a major impact on psychological well-being (by now). It is also the case that we will start to see more movement as people start relaxing and the government hints at less restrictive measures.

For now, the light at the end of the tunnel and perceived efficacy of the measures, seems to put people in a lighter mood, and those seem to be good news, as long as we can keep the balance.

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Pedro Almeida

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