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Promoting good behavior online


Portraits of Janis Whitlock, Natalie Bazarova, and Drew Margolin

Janis Whitlock, Natalie Bazarova, and Drew Margolin

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

BCTR research scientist Janis Whitlock is joining a new collaborative project at Cornell’s Institute for Social Sciences that will look at how technology influences pro-social and anti-social behaviors, and how to promote good behavior online.

The project is named "Pro-Social Behaviors in the Digital Age" and co-led by Natalie Bazarova and Drew Margolin, faculty members in Cornell’s Department of Communication. The central idea is to develop new information about the best ways to reduce negative interactions and promote positive interactions on social media platforms.

“Most of us are well aware of the way virtual social spaces can quickly become forums for base human exchange,” Whitlock said. “Understanding why this happens and, most importantly, how we might intervene as bystanders, developers, or policy makers is one of our primary goals with this project. We want to be part of the larger conversation about how to replace the worst of us with the best of us in online gathering places.”

The project team – which also includes Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior and Renѐ Kizilcec, assistant professor of information science – will focus their research on four areas:

  • preventing the spread of fake news,
  • preventing cyberbullying,
  • promoting online support for mental distress, and
  • promoting online support for people in educational settings.

The project will receive funding from the Institute for Social Science for three academic years. In the second year, project team members including Whitlock will spend half of their working hours “in residence” at the institute to promote interdisciplinary collaboration. During the third year, they hope to publish work from the project and secure funding from an external source to keep the project going.

Whitlock brings nearly two decades of research experience on youth mental health. For this project, she will focus on online exchange related to mental health distress and well-being, as well as collaborating with project team members on their focus areas..

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The new Youth Risk and Opportunity Lab


By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

stylized mountains and large sun shape with the text Youth Risk and Opportunity Cornell Lab

After more than a decade of research on self-injury, a BCTR laboratory is expanding its focus to include research on social media and adolescent sexual health as well.

The Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery has changed its name to the Youth Risk and Opportunity Lab, or YRO.  Laboratory director Janis Whitlock, a BCTR research scientist, said the name change demonstrates how the laboratory had broadened its reach in recent years.

portrait of Janis Whitlock

Janis Whitlock

“Our work on self-injury helped to establish a whole, and now robust, field of study. I am now happily returning to more fundamental interests related to technology as a context for social and emotional development, sexual health and development, and development of innovative interventions. I am excited!”

The Youth Risk and Opportunity Lab is involved in several new projects that inspired the name change.

Two projects are particularly good examples of the laboratory’s expanded focus. Whitlock is working with communications assistant professor Andrea Won and associate professor Natalie Bazarova to develop and test virtual reality treatments for people with self-injury or anxiety disorders. The concept is to create alternative worlds that will help people during moments of stress and encourage them to seek treatment with a therapist.

“The question is, can we transport people into a space that may take the edge off their self-injury desire or anxiety?” Whitlock said. “There are also larger questions of how this type of technology affects people,” she said. “What are the limitations of humans and what does that mean about how we use these kinds of devices?”

In addition, Whitlock has partnered with NYS Department of Health and ACT for Youth to lead an evaluation of a program for adolescent boys that aims to prevent them from becoming future perpetrators of sexual violence. The program is a strengths-based curriculum to help middle school boys learn relationship skills and build healthy relationships with peers and adults.

The lab is still focused on studying self-injury as well. Currently, they are surveying individuals who have self-injured in the past to inform the development of tools that will help professionals screen and better.

Learn more about the Youth Risk and Opportunity Lab.

(0) Comments.  |   Tags: communications    CRPSIR    Natalie Bazarova    technology    youth    Youth Risk and Opportunity Lab   
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