Undergraduate Research

Maricel Mequi '22

OUR Featured Researcher: Maricel Mequi '22
Maricel Mequi
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Maricel Mequi (she/her) is a Psychology, Law & Society major conducting mentored research under Professor Paul Thibodeau. Her project is titled “War Metaphors and COVID-19". 

Please describe your project: 

Research has revealed that as COVID-19 emerged as a global pandemic, people are using war metaphors to describe their experiences. Many politicians are using this frame to mobilize the general public in “fighting” against a common “enemy” with healthcare workers on the “front lines” of this “COVID war” leading us to “victory”. While this framing is compelling in that it seems to mobilize people and create a sense of urgency, new research has found that this framing incites fear and anxiety while simplifying the problem at hand. A recent movement has emerged on Twitter to #reframecovid in an attempt to find alternative metaphors to the war metaphor.

Our lab is interested in looking at how these war metaphors are being used to discuss COVID-19 on Twitter. Using a dictionary-based approach I am determining if tweets from congressmen, governors, medical experts, and reporters contain war metaphors. From this dataset, we can determine how people are using the war metaphor, who is using the metaphor, and what elements of the war metaphor are most common. 

Why is your research important?

Metaphors are important to understanding how people are thinking and making sense of the world, they are prominent and can influence behavior. 

Analyzing this frame can help to reveal how people are thinking about COVID-19, their attitudes and beliefs, and how their behaviors may be affected.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

A lot of the research involves reading papers on metaphors and discourses about COVID-19 to contextualize and connect our research to the findings of other studies. Another portion of research includes coding tweets for metaphor prevalence allowing us to create datasets that we can further analyze and draw conclusions from.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

In earlier stages, we were able to analyze tweets from members of the 116th United States Congress. We know that war metaphors are the most prevalent metaphor in COVID-19 discourses, war metaphors were not used at greater levels for tweets about COVID compared to other topics, and that war metaphors are not particularly engaging. We were able to validate findings from other studies and provide more specific analyses about the war metaphor for a specified group of people. 

In what ways have you showcased your research?

I, with the rest of the group, presented our research at the Junior Practicum research symposium in 2020.

What drove you to want to seek out research experiences in college ? 

I had the opportunity to work with Professor Paul Thibodeau as part of the Junior Practicum research project opportunity in 2020. I had always been interested in doing research with a Psychology faculty member to see what the research experience was like, and was able to use this opportunity to gain experience doing research on a topic I was interested in. 

What is your favorite part about engaging in this work?

Our research is relevant to current issues and being able to explore the war metaphor and COVID-19 as we’re experiencing the pandemic has offered unique experiences and insights. I feel like this is a unique opportunity to be able to both analyze and experience the pandemic at the same time.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?

 Professor Thibodeau has offered tremendous guidance on this project by showcasing his skills as a researcher and mentor. I’ve learned so much from both his Complex Cognition class and by working with him these past semesters. I’ve gained many skills that I hope to use in the future. 

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

Find out which faculty members are doing research and explore what they are doing to determine if their research is something you are also interested in. If so, reach out to them to see if there is an opportunity for you to join them or to start your own research. It may seem intimidating at first to be conducting research, but if you are willing and inspired to do so, it is truly a really rewarding experience.