Natural language processing reveals silver linings in Covid-19 pandemic
A new research article to appear in Frontiers in Psychology highlights some of the unintended positive consequences of the pandemic, such as a new appreciation for working from home, finding solace in a slower pace of life, and working closely with community members to achieve a common goal.
“We have identified positive aspects, or glimmers of hope, that people experienced during the Covid-19 crisis using natural language computer processing methods,” say the authors of the research led by Juan Antonio Lossio -Ventura from Stanford University. “These silver liners revealed sources of strength which included the pursuit of a sense of community, closeness, gratitude, and the belief that the pandemic can spur positive social change. “
To reach this conclusion, the researchers conducted a large-scale online survey on three social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook and NextDoor) in which they asked participants to answer the question, “Although this is a period difficult, can you tell us about the positive effects or “silver liners” that you have felt during this crisis? “
They used a combination of computational and qualitative natural language processing methods to identify themes in participants’ text responses. (For readers unfamiliar with natural language processing, this is a technique researchers use to extract meaning from large amounts of text such as millions of Facebook comments or Tweets.) They then attributed each of these themes have a “sentiment” score, based on how positive or negative their algorithm rated the theme as being.
As expected, they found that the average sentiment of participants’ responses was positive when describing the glimmers of hope for the pandemic. In addition, the responses of women were slightly more positive than those of men.
The researchers grouped participant feedback into nine main categories, listed below and ranked from most common to least common.
- Spend quality time with loved ones (example of comment: “I am in contact with my family who [lives] far a lot more. The children begin to help more in the house with cleaning and cooking. I go for two walks a day with my husband, so I have more quality time together! “)
- Life in slow motion (Sample comment: “Having real time to do nothing, without guilt or FOMO, and free space to indulge in low-stakes hobbies just for fun, like caring more about fun than Talent. “)
- The community comes together (Sample comment: “People reach out to their friends and family to make sure they’re okay, physically and emotionally. People helping neighbors who can’t make it to the store on their own. People saying hello ( at a safe distance) on the trails, respecting the rules but also the importance of remaining friendly / being courteous. People ordering from local restaurants and other means of keeping local businesses solvent. ”)
- Feel gratitude for what people have (example comment: “Appreciate the little things in life that are gone.”)
- Benefits of using technology (example comment: “Friends and family are getting better at tech and joining me on Facebook and Instagram where I’ve always done a lot of my socialization. So my physical contact with the world is much smaller but my community also feels a lot bigger and closer now. ”)
- Benefits of working from home (example comment: “I don’t have to drive an hour and a half a day to get to and from work.”)
- Improved health and health literacy (Example comment: “Trying to prioritize sleep and my physical and mental well-being. Do all my cooking at home and not buy take out / restaurant / take out.”)
- Momentum for positive social change (Sample comment: “My therapy and psychiatry practice previously refused to make appointments via telehealth. Due to the pandemic, they were forced to adopt telehealth practices. I hope they will continue. this practice thereafter. ”)
- Positive environmental impact (example of comment: “Greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing.”)
“In an age of limited resources, understanding the glimmers of hope that have given people hope, strength and comfort can inform efforts to support individual and group recovery from the psychological and emotional challenges of the pandemic, ”say the authors. “As a result, we may be better able to recover from this crisis and better prepared to respond to potential future crises. “
A full interview with Dr Juan Antonio Lossio-Ventura discussing this research can be found here: Keeping a Positive Mindset During the Covid-19 Crisis