19 March 2020

SODAS researchers to be part of team studying our social behavior during the Covid-19 epidemic

COVID-19 FUNDING

As a direct result of the spread of the Corona virus and the acute health crisis in Denmark and the rest of the world, the Carlsberg Foundation grants DKK 25 million to a new Semper Ardens project to investigate behavior in both the public space and on social media. SODAS researchers Rebecca Adler-Nissen and Sune Lehmann will be part of the research team.

Empty shelves after panic buying
An example of a Danish supermarket after panic buying during the corona-crisis. Photo: Colourbox

As a direct result of the spread of the Corona virus and the acute health crisis in Denmark and the rest of the world, the Carlsberg Foundation grants DKK 25 million to a new Semper Ardens project to investigate behavior in both the public space and on social media. SODAS researchers Rebecca Adler-Nissen and Sune Lehmann will be part of the research team.

With the Corona epidemic, Danish society is facing one of the most turbulent crises since World War II. After a week, the epidemic has not only led to more far-reaching legislation than after the September 11 attack but also to fundamental changes in the lives of ordinary citizens.

The Carlsberg Foundation has therefore decided to award a Semper Ardens grant to one of Denmark's leading researchers in behavior and political psychology, Professor of Political Science Michael Bang Petersen at Aarhus University. With the project 'HOPE - How Democracies Cope with Covid19: A Data-Driven Approach' he will work with a research team to investigate how society acts during crises, as well as how democracies deal with an epidemic such as the one we are currently facing.

With participation of Denmark’s best research environments

In addition to Michael Bang Petersen, the research team consists of Professor Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Political Science, University of Copenhagen, Professor Andreas Roepstorff, University of Aarhus and Professor Sune Lehmann, DTU Compute, Technical University of Denmark. Both Rebecca Adler-Nissen and Sune Lehmann are part of the Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science (SODAS) at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Copenhagen. Some of the best data-focused research environments in Denmark are thus integrated, including the Interacting Minds Center at the University of Aarhus, SODAS, the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Copenhagen and DTU Compute.

Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, Dean at the Faculty of Social Sciences, is particularly pleased with the crosscutting element of the project.
- The headline of this situation is cooperation. And I am happy that this cooperation also takes place within the area of research where, through this collaboration with the University of Aarhus, the Technical University of Denmark and the Carlsberg Foundation, we are able to learn more about the Corona crisis and its effect on democracy. How democracies handle crises is a classical social science question. I hope this project will be one of the first in a long line of Corona related projects at the Faculty of Social Sciences, says the Dean.

- We are in the middle of a very serious situation that requires swift action, which is why the Carlsberg Foundation has decided to create a Semper Ardens project to conduct research both “in real life” and online during the epidemic. The project will investigate the link between government announcements, the media agenda and public behavior and use this to understand and predict the evolution of the epidemic itself. Equally important, the project will also use the data collected to identify the optimal strategy for dealing with epidemics, so that we can learn from our mistakes and develop best practice to be prepared for the next time the world is facing an epidemic of this nature, says Flemming Besenbacher, chairman of the Carlsberg Foundation.

“Real-time” data collection

During an epidemic, politicians and authorities must motivate behavioral changes and ensure support for legislation. Thus, leadership can save lives. However, in an open democratic society, this leadership is also challenged by misinformation on for instance social media and public uncertainty based on opposing advice from various national and international authorities.

Misinformation is one of Professor Rebecca Adler-Nissen’s areas of research.
- Among other things, I do research on digital misinformation in relation to international conflicts. However, misinformation on Covid-19 is also being spread on social media. The question is how this affects our behaviour and understanding of the situation. We must also look at Denmark in an international context. Which effects do the different guidelines and initiatives from national and international authorities have? This is important to understand, and our unique research environments at Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science (SODAS) and the Faculty in general can contribute to that, Rebecca Adler-Nissen says.

The Semper Ardens project will investigate the relationship between government announcements, the media agenda and the behavior of the public and use this to understand and predict the evolution of the epidemic itself. In doing so, the researchers take advantage of the Corona epidemic taking place during the "big data" revolution, where it is now possible to gather detailed data during a crisis. The project collects data from several countries, international organizations and authorities, and thus developments in Denmark can be viewed in a global context.

- It is today’s behavior that determines the development of the infection curve in two weeks. Public behavior thus plays a crucial role in our ability to overcome the Corona epidemic. The HOPE project offers unique support for the battle against the epidemic by providing deep insight into public behavior, and at the same time this data becomes invaluable when we subsequently have to assess which actions were unsuccessful and which ones succeeded. So the ambition of the HOPE project is not only to help here and now, but also to prepare society for the next epidemic, says Michael Bang Petersen.

Two study phases: the present and the future

The Semper Ardens project will take place in two stages. The first stage is ongoing during the epidemic itself. A significant number of intensive data collections of the attitude and behavior of the Danes and other nationalities have been launched immediately in the public space and on social media. Analyzes of this data will be continuously linked to the development of the epidemic and made available to the authorities to qualify the difficult decisions that need to be taken immediately to get Denmark safely through the epidemic.

The second phase takes place after the epidemic. The focus is to use the extensive data volumes to learn from mistakes and identify best practices and strategies to be prepared for the next time the world faces an epidemic of this nature. Thus, one of the key features of the Corona epidemic is the significant differences in the approach between the different countries. Which strategies prevented the infection and which ones cost lives? At the same time, the HOPE project also provides unique data material for future generations. This can be used to understand life and daily life during a time that will become a central event in the history of Denmark.


The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at UCPH has received similar funding from the Carlsberg Foundation for the development of methods for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infections.
The research will provide new, important knowledge about viruses and their properties and equip the world to better cope with future viral epidemics like Covid-19. Read more about the project here.