Biomedical Reports and Social Diversity: the case of COVID-19

The Team

The Proposal

Interdisciplinary Nature of Proposal

This project will examine how reports of disease etiology/cause of disease severity of COVID-19 may affect attitudes toward social diversity, through constructions and attributions of group differences, be it biological or social. Specifically, we intend to explore the potential relationship between depictions of COVID-19 in journalistic reports on biomedical research and essentialized beliefs of ethnic groups, as well as stereotypes and discrimination by the Singaporean general public towards migrant workers (Khoo and Lim, 2004; BBC News, 22 April 2020). Recently, several scientific and journalistic reports have discussed the possible genetic or environmental factors that may lead some patients to experience more severe reaction to COVID-19. There is also extensive report on the increase in the number of infection among migrant workers. What is unclear is what happens when the general public reads such reports?At the societal level, does it shift how the public view the migrant workers, and more broadly, the acceptance of ethnic diversity? This research will be carried out with expertise in psychology (Sharon Ng and Catherine Ching Wan), in health/medicine (Joanne Ngeow, Jeremy Lim, Ben Kuan and Ann Hui Ching) and in sociology (Shirley Sun), together with the external partners working with migrant workers (HealthServe).

Potential Societal Impact

To our knowledge, our study is the first study performed to

  1. evaluate how a simple intervention in framing medical research can correct public understanding of the construction of ethnicity
  2. explore the association between erroneous beliefs in biological basis in bodies and in disease causality
  3. explore pedagogical and policy interventions, such as teaching materials in biomedical journalism and policies related to migration economics.


Last but not least important, this project will have implications for improvements of healthcare through the framework of Patient and Public involvement (PPI). Despite growing evidence of the positive impact that PPI can have on research conduct and implementation of findings, public involvement in Singapore remains rare.

Scientific Outputs and Project Deliverables

Peer-reviewed publications We aim to publish at least one peer-reviewed journal articles in any of the following areas: Psychology journals - Social Psychology and Personality Science (SPPS, impact factor 3.065/2018) - Psychological science (impact factor 4.902/2018) - Journal of Consumer Psychology (impact factor 3.385/2018) Public health/Medicine journals - International Journal of Public Health (impact factor 2.373/2018) - Health and Place (impact factor 3.202/2018) - Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health (impact factor 1.459) Migration journals: - International Migration (impact factor 0.733) - Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (impact factor 1.71) A larger grant proposal Based on the results of the series of socio-psychological experiments we propose, we aim to submit a larger grant proposal to the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) or AcRF Tier 3 grant. This project will increase our chances toward the grant by solidifying our interdisciplinary cooperation – specifically by incorporating the lived experiences of vulnerable migrant populations and medical professionals’ views and opinions. With the results from this proposed research, we are also going to be on a stronger footing for working with HealthServe and other non-profit organizations working with migrant populations in Singapore (e.g. Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics/HOME and Transient Workers Count Too/TWC2) and potentially Singapore Ministry of Health officials to improve health services for all (Singaporeans/PRs and migrant workers who have built the country together).

Risks and Mitigation

There is minimal risk to human subjects participating in this research. This research will not collect any identifying or sensitive information from the participants. There is no anticipated specific benefits to the participants.

External Collaborator

The confirmed external partner affiliate is HealthServe, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing healing and hope to migrant workers in Singapore. (website: Pending external partner affiliates include Transient Workers Count Too/TWC2 and/or Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics/HOME Description of the Partnership: Dr. Jeremy Lim and Dr. Ben Kuan (Head of Medical Services at HealthServe) have agreed to provide access to information/data on the lived experiences of migrant workers for this project on how people respond to reports of COVID-19 and the social and psychological consequences of COVID-19.


Current Status

The experiments that we are running, require a minimum of 100 participants for each condition (so a total of 300 participants at least)  They are currently up and running and still on-going.