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OSU med student gains international attention for research

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Trevor Torgerson
Trevor Torgerson is lead author on the published paper that utilized an episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to study public awareness on the web and social media.

A research study authored by OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine second year medical student Trevor Torgerson was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine and has since garnered international interest.

On March 28, 2019, the television show Grey’s Anatomy aired the episode “Silent All These Years” about sexual assault. At the end of the episode, the show’s star, Ellen Pompeo, urged viewers to seek help and provided the contact number for the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline.

“I am very interested in the way the major media outlets can influence public perception and awareness on health topics. I think the media is an avenue that can and should be used to promote public health initiatives,” said Torgerson, who was the lead researcher on the project.

Using data from Google Trends and Twitter, the study assessed the influence of a popular television series episode on the public’s awareness of this sexual assault resource.

For two weeks before the episode aired and one week following, the group studied the frequency of certain words and phrases searched for on Google and mentioned on Twitter. Inquiries for the term RAINN were 41 percent greater than expected in the episode’s aftermath.

“A significant finding was that we found engagements with the @RAINN twitter account and tweets mentioning ‘Sexual Assault Hotline’ increased by over 1,000 percent the day after the episode was released. This finding means that people were engaging with the content being released. There were considerable increases found on both Twitter and Google Trends, but more importantly the RAINN hotline saw their call volume increase by 43 percent in the 48 hours after the episode. These findings display another way for the media and involved parties to reach survivors of sexual violence who may not be aware of the resources otherwise,” he said.

Since the study was published Dec. 2, Torgerson has been interviewed by several news services including Reuters, Axios and Healio. The story has since been picked up by news stations and organizations across the country and the globe including Good Morning America, USA Today and US News & World Report.

Co-authors on the study are OSU Center for Health Sciences’ clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral health Matt Vassar, Ph.D., and OSU associate professor in the College of Education, Health and Aviation Jam Khojasteh, Ph.D.


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