Your New BFF: Brain Food Fridays

Brain Book Friday graphic

Welcome to Brain Food Friday (BFF), a monthly blog of bite-sized morsels of the latest research on communication and behavior change.

In this edition, we highlight this year’s hot communications topic — artificial intelligence (AI), along with language barriers and reducing inequality.

Working with Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Reading the Entire Internet Hasn’t Made ChatGPT More Inclusive — AI language models like ChatGPT have become adept at recognizing patterns to produce English language documents that include everything from a press release to a movie script. These models use what is known as common-sense reasoning. What AI still can’t do is reason like a human. Researchers at the University of British Columbia are investigating how deeper reasoning can be incorporated into AI and what benefits that might produce. One key advantage could be better interpretation of culturally diverse data. Right now, English text on the web is largely from North America, which means that the patterns being analyzed tend to produce results that are biased toward that continent. When the research team trained a current model on data from diverse cultures, including India, Nigeria and South Korea, the responses became more culturally informed. In the race to responsibly incorporate AI into the communications field, studies like this demonstrate the need to pause and ask about the tools’ limits and biases.

Can AI Improve Crowdsourcing? — Brainstorming is a foundational activity for communicators, but let’s face it — as much as we say otherwise, not every idea is a good idea. Now let’s expand the universe of ideas to thousands of inputs, aka crowdsourcing. Sorting through that much data is time consuming and fraught with opportunities for human error. Research published in the journal Marketing Science investigates whether AI can improve the process. Using data from Hyve — a crowdsourcing platform — researchers looked at 20 crowdsourcing contests and more than 4,000 ideas, then tested a simple model for screening ideas that experts might consider “bad.” They found that AI worked faster and with less bias than human analysts, who often have their own favored approach. They also found a way to screen out nearly half of the ideas without losing too many good ideas in the process. Finally, they were able to identify a new predictor, word atypicality, that ensures the inclusion of the most inclusive and rich ideas. The researchers reinforced that people and experts are still needed at all stages of the process, with AI helping with the arduous data analysis process. At the same time, they said that, in the long run, if automation is used properly, it can potentially eliminate the need for human idea generators.

Health Disinformation In; Health Disinformation Out — While communications professionals continue to explore how AI tools can benefit our profession, the risks are becoming clearer, too. A study in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that, within 65 minutes of a basic search in ChatGPT, the AI program had produced 102 blog articles containing more than 17,000 words of disinformation related to vaccines and vaping. With so much health disinformation on the internet, the tool is having a hard time discerning real from fake. As AI becomes more widely used, the already present danger to health consumers could increase through false or dangerous information produced from an AI query. The pressure is on health communicators to fight back by being vigilant in providing credible sources for all information and actively correcting health disinformation with accurate data and advice.

Tackling Language Barriers and Inequality

As the U.S. Becomes More Language Diverse, Fewer Students Are Studying Languages — A Modern Language Association report reveals a staggering 16.6% drop in U.S. college students studying world languages between 2016 and 2021. With just 20% of K–12 students studying world languages, a linguistic gap is emerging in the workforce. This could spell trouble for efforts to address critical social issues in a nation with increasingly diverse language needs. In-language materials are key to effective messaging around issues related to safety, health, housing and education. Without these tools, deeper disparities could emerge. It may be time to urge the industry to encourage foreign language study by communications students, including partnering with universities to introduce language majors to opportunities in the communications field.

Exploring the Relationship Between Discrimination and Black Youth Suicide — Increased suicide rates among Black youth over the past two decades led researchers at the University of Southern California to explore a potential relationship between exposure to online racial discrimination and suicidal ideation. The study, involving 525 Black boys and girls in the U.S., ages 11 to 19, found an indirect link between the two factors. Ultimately, the research showed a direct association between online discrimination and PTSD symptoms among Black teens, as well as a direct association between PTSD and suicidal ideation. While many factors are likely contributing to the increase in suicide among Black adolescents, this study shows the need for more attention to designing and moderating online spaces that are safe and welcoming for Black youth.

Reducing Inequality: A Key Climate Strategy — Communicators in the climate sector are spending countless hours and resources trying to convince all of us to reduce our carbon footprints. Researchers at the UK’s University of Cambridge say that changing habits and behaviors in a meaningful way is a luxury only the wealthy can afford. Many lower carbon options, such as electric bikes, plant-based foods and house insulation, are expensive and out of reach for those with limited incomes, who also might be renting or living in rural areas where transportation alternatives aren’t realistic. While the study acknowledges that those with more money are likely causing more carbon emissions, a true path to net-zero must include everyone — which means spending less time lecturing and more time working on policy interventions that allow all people to participate in the solution.

Check back next month for more tasty treats from your new BFF! Have a wonderful weekend!