With misinformation concerning the COVID-19 vaccine swirling on social media, it’s
important to find the best ways to communicate health risks to the public. Associate
professor Jungmi Jun is researching just that at the College of Information and Communications.
“Some people don’t have the privilege to become exposed to health information material,”
Jun says. It was after witnessing this happen in real-time that she became devoted
to health information advocacy for minority groups.
Jun didn’t begin her academic career in the health communication field. It was during
her time as a doctoral student at George Mason University that the H1N1 flu outbreak
exposed her to the health disparities in minority communities. “Health communication
was not a popular major back then,” says Jun. But after taking a health communication
course she “fell in love with that area of study.”
Since obtaining her Ph.D., Jun has been a part of numerous health communication studies
involving health information disparities. One of her most prominent research projects
explored how certain minority groups are less likely to get cancer screenings because
of “fatalism,” or the belief that cancer is a death sentence that can’t be prevented,
in their culture.
More recently, as one of the University of South Carolina’s ASPIRE grant recipients,
Jun conducted research on the effects new FDA authorization had on consumer perception
of tobacco products. Last year, the FDA approved IQOS, a brand of a heated tobacco
system, as a modified risk exposure product. This means that certain novel tobacco
product brands can now market themselves as less harmful than regular cigarettes to
the general public.
Jun worries that this new authorization could cause misinformation about the safety
of IQOS and other novel tobacco products.
“People think that IQOS are FDA approved and are less harmful or safer tobacco products,
but there’s no such thing,” says Jun.
In order to measure how this new authorization might influence the public’s perception
of IQOS tobacco products, Jun and her team are utilizing the College of Information
and Communications’ Biometrics and User Experience Lab.
“Participants come to the lab, and they watch these two different commercials, one where we
are giving cues of FDA approval and the other where we don’t give such cues,” Jun
For instance, one commercial could include information stating that the FDA has approved
IQOS as a modified risk exposure product, while the other commercial contains no such
While the participants are watching these commercials, Jun uses the technology in
the Biometrics Lab to measure eye movement, facial expressions and skin responses,
seeing how their body reacts to the commercials they are being shown. These physiological
responses show the involuntary emotional or physical reactions participants have toward
The participants also complete a survey where they evaluate their beliefs and perceptions
about the two commercials. Jun’s findings from this data will help determine whether
the new FDA authorization indeed influences the public’s perception of the safety
of these products.
Jun has plans to continue looking into health information disparities, this time in
relation to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. She and her team have already started using
Brandwatch Consumer Research, a software used in the Social Media Insights Lab that
uses artificial intelligence to interpret online data. The software has already collected
data on Twitter sentiments toward COVID-19 vaccinations in over 190 countries and
more than 40 languages.
“We want to compare how countries talk about COVID-19 vaccinations ... and what other
emotions they’re attaching to COVID-19 vaccinations,” she says. She hopes to discover
what factors contribute to sentiments toward COVID-19 vaccinations.
Jun’s research has contributed greatly to the field of health communications, both
practically and academically, and her future research plans have the potential to
improve public health awareness in the coming years.
Elena Keller is a freshman in the South Carolina Honors College majoring in mass communications.
She is from Blythewood, SC and plans to pursue a career in the health communications
field. She interviewed Dr. Jungmi Jun for an assignment in her Honors JOUR 101 course taught
by Dr. Andrea Tanner.
I chose to interview Dr. Jun because of my interest in the health communications field
and in several of the studies she has already conducted. I was particularly interested
in hearing about her current research in the Biometrics Lab on how certain ads can
impact tobacco use. After speaking with Dr. Jun, I’m even more interested in the field
of health communications. She also made me realize that I can use my communication
skills to help improve people’s quality of life, not just sell products or report
news. If possible, I would be interested in joining Dr. Jun in the Social Media Insights
Lab for her next project on COVID-19 vaccination communications and will be looking
into this next semester.