Assistant Professor Kim Hye Kyung received her BA in Advertising and Public Relations at Ewha Womans University in 2006. In 2007, she received her MS in Public Relations at Syracuse University, following which she received her Ph.D. in Communication at Cornell University in 2014.
Despite a background in Public Relations, Dr. Kim’s present research is all about health communication – specifically in understanding factors that change people’s perception towards a disease or against a healthier lifestyle.
In particular, Dr. Kim deals heavily with cancer prevention, mental health issues, and
obesity related diseases, in terms of developing theory-driven campaign strategies to health promotion.
“My approach is towards changing mindsets and is based on psychological perspective, so I usually do experiments to test out specific messages or strategies that can help people be better informed to lead a healthier lifestyle,” she said.
One focal approach she takes is the use of narrative in campaigns. “I like stories, so I test what kind of specific elements in health-related stories can change people’s perception about health issues,” she said, citing the use of patient testimonials to increase people’s motivation to take cancer prevention behaviours as an example.
While her experiments frequently involve college students, Dr. Kim also conducts surveys with the general population – to see what kind of beliefs they have related to cancer causes and prevention.
“Some people believe that cancer cannot be prevented, regardless of what they do – it’s kind of a fatalistic perception,” she explained. “So I try to understand who are more likely to have that kind of perception so as to better give information relevant to those people, and develop strategies to correct that misconception.”
But why the strong interest in health communication, given her background?
“I’ve always been interested in understanding people’s psychology, and health communication can benefit most from psychological perspectives,” Dr. Kim mused, acknowledging that she changed her research direction from Public Relations to health communication during her time at Cornell.
“Also, I originally wanted to be a doctor when I was young – I didn’t end up on that path but I was always kind of interested in health-related issues,” said Dr. Kim, whose father is a cancer survivor.
“I naturally got interested in health topic, and ways to change the likelihood of getting a disease, and I think communications is a very important aspect that can make a difference.”
As such, Dr. Kim is currently testing several versions of health narratives– in particular the idea of interactive narrative via multimedia, where a user would be able to make a health decision for a character to decide his or her ‘fate’.
She believes that such active interactivity would have a different implication on an individual’s personal perception as well as his/her behaviour in the long run, and is hence looking to further develop that feature to be utilized in real health practices – “Maybe implement it in websites or smartphone apps,” she quipped.
On her foray into teaching, she pointed out that “teaching is something that can lend my research to future communication experts”.
“It’s very different from research, but very rewarding because you always get good energy from young students – which is a big benefit for us!” she laughed. At present she teaches Persuasion and Social Influence, and campaign-related courses, which includes the evaluating and producing campaign result.
“I find Wee Kim Wee students are quite motivated all the time,” she added sincerely. “I think it’s because Singaporeans are so competitive, we have a very good pool of undergrads here,” she grinned. “I’m very inspired by their energy in class – it’s very fortunate for me as a professor, I think.”