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The Changing Voice of a Virus: 10-Week Tracking Study (Ongoing)

By Beth Baldys

Wed Apr 01 2020

In the third week of January 2020, when there were only two reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., inVibe decided to embark on a research experiment that involved reaching out to general consumers every week for an indeterminate period of time with four simple questions related to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Like the rest of the world, we were not at all prepared for what was about to come next. As you can imagine, our decision to start collecting data on this topic in January proved to be prescient. While the crisis that continues to unfold is tragic beyond words, we hope that the voice dataset we are building and the stories we continue to collect can provide valuable insights into how world events and the news play a role in shaping emotions, beliefs, and human behavior.

Signals in the Noise

Every week, for the past ten weeks, inVibe has asked people to share what they know about the virus, how they are feeling, how COVID-19 has been impacting their lives, and what questions they might have for experts. Through inVibe’s 24/7 automated voice-interview platform, people can listen to questions and share their thoughts by talking, from the privacy, comfort, and safety of their own home.

Every week, inVibe analyzed the voice-data through its hybrid approach that involves advanced speech emotion recognition technology and expert language analysis.

What we have learned over the past ten weeks is deeply insightful, often surprising, and sometimes downright concerning.

Emotional Distancing

At the start of this experiment, we listened carefully as most Americans expressed something sociolinguists refer to as “emotional distancing,” a linguistic signature present when people (oftentimes unconsciously) are trying to reduce the negative effect of an event by creating a kind of “cognitive distance” between themselves and the subject matter they are describing. However, just eight weeks later, our analysis of the voice captured a dramatic shift in tone as the news reported a massive increase in the number of diagnosed cases in the country, and nearly every U.S. governor declared a state of emergency.

Core Areas of Insight

Social scientists have long known there is a cycle of influence between what we know, how we feel, and the actions we take. As a result, tracking changes in the public’s level of knowledge, emotion, and actions became three key pillars of our analysis. At inVibe, we measure these changes both in the specific words people use, as well as through analysis of the hidden acoustic signals present in our voices that correlate with feelings of control (dominance), excitement (activation), and sentiment (valence). inVibe’s unique hybrid approach to voice-data analysis enables us to provide a deeper level of insight into how consumer knowledge, emotion, and life have changed over time as a result of the unfolding crisis.

KNOWLEDGE: From “What I Think” to “What I Know”

Over the ten weeks that we’ve been collecting data, people’s opinions about COVID-19 have grown significantly stronger and more emotionally charged. This is the natural progression one would expect to see as new and dynamic information transforms into personal beliefs and, in turn, evaluative opinions.

Fear language has evolved from “a bit fearful” to words like “terror” and “nightmare.” Fear is now specific and personal — including financial fears and worries of experiencing limited access to essential resources. And yet, not everyone is concerned. A small but vocal minority of people maintain that they do not care. Those people frequently cite the media or “other people” as creating hysteria that is disproportional to the seriousness of the events at hand.

IMPACT: From “Just Handwashing” to “A Whole New World”

In the early weeks, people expressed that COVID-19 had a very low impact on their daily lives. But in Week 7 (March 9–15), we began to see a shift, whereby people began to acknowledge they were taking specific actions and making changes with increased adherence to isolation, prevention, and preparation. By Week 8, most respondents indicated that COVID-19 was significantly impacting their day-to-day lives, and the changes they were making were no longer only by choice.

As Others Speak, We'll Keep Listening

We will continue to publish our novel longitudinal results as they evolve. We are hopeful that they help people contextualize these unprecedented events.

We have also launched similar inVibe studies with patients, physicians, and other healthcare stakeholders — and plan to publish that data soon too. The world’s healthcare professionals have risen to an occasion for which no one could have prepared them.

If you would like to learn more or ensure you are on our mailing list please drop us a line at (949) 438–4836 or an email at, or better still — let’s Zoom, Skype, Facetime, or Hangout.

We hope you are safe, healthy, and surrounded by care and kindness.

Thanks for reading!

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