Fred & Gladys Seaton Professor Valerie Jones received a Fulbright Global Scholar Award on April 1 to study the use of emergent technology in facilitating social connectedness for aging adults in the United States and Australia. She is the first professor from the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications to be named a Fulbright Scholar since 1999.
Jones will travel to Melbourne, Australia from February to May 2023, to conduct research with global experts in the study of social connection, digital inclusion and public interest technology at the Social Innovation Research Institute at the Swinburne University of Technology. The research will build upon Jones' work examining the impact of artificial intelligence-powered personal voice assistants (PVA), like Amazon’s Alexa, on reducing loneliness in aging adults. The findings of her initial study were published in Frontiers in Public Health in December 2021.
At Swinburne, Jones will partner with Jane Farmer and her interdisciplinary team of researchers. Farmer’s team has developed an evidence-based social connection model that is rooted in the work of evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. Jones will apply Farmer’s model to her study of the influence of PVAs on aging adults. The model will provide a lens for evaluating not just the presence but also the nature of different types of social connections to more specifically understand what aging adult participants are seeking that PVAs may provide.
“Loneliness and social isolation are major public health issues, associated with anxiety, depression, dementia and premature death. The pandemic brought this into sharp and painful focus. And the number of Americans 65+ is projected to double in less than 40 years,” Jones said. “New communication technologies like PVAs can help facilitate independence and companionship, can help older adults living alone feel connected and cared for. The Fulbright Award will enable cross-country collaboration about global issues like these, and, I hope, launch a lasting relationship.”
Jones aims for her research to provide a tangible benefit for Americans and Australians by demonstrating how these affordable, accessible technologies can potentially be personalized and adapted to more proactively stimulate social connectedness.
The Fulbright Global Scholar Award allows U.S. academics to engage in multi-country, trans-regional projects. This U.S. State Department program is designed to expand and strengthen the relationships between the people of the United States and citizens of the rest of the world. To learn more about the program, visit https://cies.org/us-scholar-awards/global.