Using Pathfinder networks to discover alignment between expert and consumer conceptual knowledge from online vaccine content

Muhammad Amith, Rachel Cunningham, Lara S. Savas, Julie Boom, Roger Schvaneveldt, Cui Tao, Trevor Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This study demonstrates the use of distributed vector representations and Pathfinder Network Scaling (PFNETS) to represent online vaccine content created by health experts and by laypeople. By analyzing a target audience's conceptualization of a topic, domain experts can develop targeted interventions to improve the basic health knowledge of consumers. The underlying assumption is that the content created by different groups reflects the mental organization of their knowledge. Applying automated text analysis to this content may elucidate differences between the knowledge structures of laypeople (heath consumers) and professionals (health experts). This paper utilizes vaccine information generated by laypeople and health experts to investigate the utility of this approach. We used an established technique from cognitive psychology, Pathfinder Network Scaling to infer the structure of the associational networks between concepts learned from online content using methods of distributional semantics. In doing so, we extend the original application of PFNETS to infer knowledge structures from individual participants, to infer the prevailing knowledge structures within communities of content authors. The resulting graphs reveal opportunities for public health and vaccination education experts to improve communication and intervention efforts directed towards health consumers. Our efforts demonstrate the feasibility of using an automated procedure to examine the manifestation of conceptual models within large bodies of free text, revealing evidence of conflicting understanding of vaccine concepts among health consumers as compared with health experts. Additionally, this study provides insight into the differences between consumer and expert abstraction of domain knowledge, revealing vaccine-related knowledge gaps that suggest opportunities to improve provider-patient communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-45
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Biomedical Informatics
StatePublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Big data
  • Consumer health
  • Consumer informatics
  • Distributional semantics
  • Knowledge acquisition
  • Mental models
  • Natural language processing
  • Public health informatics
  • Semantic spaces
  • Social media
  • Vaccination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Health Informatics


Dive into the research topics of 'Using Pathfinder networks to discover alignment between expert and consumer conceptual knowledge from online vaccine content'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this