Researchers faucet Twitter to have a look at how city design impacts psychological well being

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Researchers tap Twitter to look at how urban design affects mental health

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Intrigued by the concept of harnessing the ability of Twitter to learn how Edmonton’s inexperienced areas, playgrounds or open wi-fi have an effect on psychological well being, a gaggle of College of Alberta graduate college students and alumni developed an internet utility that might probably inform authorities insurance policies on designing mood-boosting city areas.

“(The app) must undergo a number of levels of growth and analysis earlier than forming any coverage choices on psychological well being and well-being, however the methodology and evaluation have reached a stage the place different researchers can use it for public well being exploration,” mentioned Fahim Hassan, a PhD scholar within the College of Public Well being.

Hassan and his companions—Hamman Samuel, a U of A PhD candidate in laptop science, and two engineering alumni, Mohib Khan and S.A. Rokib—needed to mine Twitter to raised perceive the relationships between completely different components of city design, akin to land use and infrastructure, and associated psychological well being points like stress and despair.

They used Edmonton as a case research and road-tested their analysis for a Metropolis of Edmonton HealthHack competitors in 2018, ending within the prime 5.

“We’ve proven the Metropolis of Edmonton planners that it’s doable to get information from Twitter, filter out the noise and switch natural interplay into insights that can be utilized to make higher coverage choices for the town,” mentioned Hassan.

“As an illustration, how do you discover out which elements of a metropolis want extra inexperienced area? A method is to concentrate to conversations on social media. Loads of conversations that occur on Twitter might be analyzed based mostly on location, sentiment scores and sentence construction. Tapping into that can give us new insights.”

Incorporating the nuances

For the undertaking, Samuel developed a social media aggregator to gather and analyze 1000’s of Twitter posts geotagged with the consumer’s location. The researchers used pure language processing strategies to sift by means of the tweets for phrases and phrases associated to psychological well being and well-being, then plotted out their information on an interactive map of Edmonton alongside the town’s infrastructure.

Impressed by health-related Twitter esearch by U of A computing scientist Osmar Zaiane, Hassan and his colleagues borrowed closely from Zaiane’s analytical framework to craft their undertaking, and whereas they needed to see how social media may gauge psychological well being, they’d one other purpose in thoughts: to check a 2014 College of Ottawa research that claimed Edmonton was the saddest metropolis in Canada, based mostly on Twitter information.

“To problem that declare, we would have liked some sort of similarity within the methodology to see if we may make sense of the analysis.”

Evaluating it with their very own undertaking, they confirmed a suspicion that it’s not a easy factor to tease complicated conclusions from social media information.

“What we realized from our work is that it’s a extra nuanced query. The College of Ottawa research had numerous limitations. As an illustration, their timeframe was restricted to winter, however the way in which folks tweet all year long would supply a greater pattern. Taking a screenshot in an Edmonton snowstorm can skew the info.”

Hassan and his companions arenow taking a deeper dive into their findings to outline the parts of psychological well being, by linking with different socioeconomic and demographic information being collected by the Canadian Institutes of Well being Analysis and Statistics Canada.

“We will’t get the perception we’re on the lookout for from one set of information,” he mentioned.

Potential for ‘citizen science’

In the end, they hope to offer governments just like the Metropolis of Edmonton a greater understanding of a quickly altering setting to allow them to react extra nimbly, mentioned Hassan.

“Individuals’s expectations from authorities are to be proactive and agile, and to try this, authorities wants to research issues extra shortly. With a instrument like this, policy-makers could make higher choices inside a really quick time period.”

They’re additionally excited concerning the potential for “citizen science” offered by tasks like theirs.

“It’s a really community-oriented technique to do analysis. We as researchers try to empower and interact residents to have a greater understanding of the town we live in, and a technique of doing it’s to harness the ability of social media.”

Hassan mentioned there’s an natural interplay between folks on Twitter, which is completely different from conventional sources of data like surveys.

“There’s a rising curiosity in exploring methods to research Twitter information for public well being analysis, and I hope this undertaking will assist advance the collective understanding of educational information and public perceptions.”

/College of Alberta Launch. View in full right here.

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