. Scientific Frontline: Social Science
Showing posts with label Social Science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Social Science. Show all posts

Monday, January 30, 2023

Children have not recovered learning lost during the COVID-19 pandemic

Learning online: 'We find a substantial overall learning deficit…which arose early in the pandemic and persists over time… The pooled effect…implies that students lost out on about 35% of what they would have learned in a normal school year…This confirms initial concerns the pandemic would cause substantial harm to student learning.'
Photo Credit: Amr

Each year during the pandemic, school children lost one third of what they would have learned – and this has still not been recovered, according to a study published today in Human Nature Behaviour.

According to the paper, A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning, ‘We find a substantial overall learning deficit…which arose early in the pandemic and persists over time… The pooled effect…implies that students lost out on about 35% of what they would have learned in a normal school year…This confirms initial concerns the pandemic would cause substantial harm to student learning.’

In particular, the paper finds, Math learning has been affected as well as children from lower income groups, ‘The pandemic has exacerbated educational inequalities between children from different socio-economic backgrounds, which were already large before the pandemic.’

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

COVID-19 conspiracy theories that spread fastest focused on evil, secrecy

Covid 19 Conspiracy Initiated
Image Credit: Dr StClaire

In the early pandemic, conspiracy theories that were shared the most on Twitter highlighted malicious purposes and secretive actions of supposed bad actors behind the crisis, according to an analysis of nearly 400,000 posts. 

In the study, researchers identified commonalities in five of the most popular conspiracy theories: those related to Bill Gates, 5G Networks, vaccinations, QAnon and Agenda 21.

While each theory appears to have a different subject, the social media narratives often overlapped, said Porismita Borah, associate professor in Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communications.

“The conspiracy theories might be using different strategies, but the narratives are often connected,” said Borah, the corresponding author on the study published in the journal New Media and Society. “These theories have a lot in common in that they try to make the stories part of a bigger conspiracy so that if people believe in one conspiracy, then they tend to believe in the other.”

Interfering in big decisions friends and family take could violate a crucial moral right, philosopher argues

Two people speaking, sat at a table 
Photo Credit: Charles Deluvio

If you’ve told an adult friend or family member that they should not take a job, not date someone, not try skydiving or not move abroad, you may have violated a crucial moral right to ‘revelatory autonomy’ and ‘self-authorship’, according to a philosopher at Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Dr Farbod Akhlaghi’s study, published in the journal Analysis, is the first of its kind to suggest that we have a moral right to ‘revelatory autonomy’, that is the right to discover for ourselves who we’ll become as a result of making ‘transformative choices’, choices to have experiences that teach us what that experience will be like for us whilst also changing our core preferences, values and desires.

Dr Akhlaghi says: “The ability to see that the person we’ve become is the product of decisions that we made for ourselves is very important.

“I’m not telling people what to do. I’m just highlighting part of what is morally at stake in these very common interactions and trying to develop a framework for us to understand them. I hope some may find this helpful, as these will always be difficult moments for all of us.”

Friday, January 6, 2023

Lost in Translation: How "Risky" Amino Acids Abort Elongation in Protein Synthesis


Elongation, a crucial step in the translation process of protein synthesis, gets disrupted by amino acid sequences with an abundance of N-terminal aspartic and glutamic acid residues in eukaryotic cells, discovered researchers from Tokyo Tech and University of Hyogo. The team's findings show that these "risky" amino acids can destabilize the ribosomal machinery. As a consequence, most proteomes tend to avoid incorporating them at the N-terminals of peptide sequences, indicating a bias in amino acid distribution.

Life depends on the precise functioning of several proteins synthesized in cells by ribosomes. This diverse set of proteins, known as a proteome, is maintained by the robust translation elongation of amino acid sequences taking place in the ribosomes. The translation mechanisms which ensure that nascent chains of polypeptides—long chains of amino acids—are elongated without getting detached are conserved in all living organisms. However, the rates of elongation are not constant. Elongation is often interrupted by interactions between positively charged nascent polypeptides and negatively charged ribosomal RNA.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Females perform better than males on a ‘theory of mind’ test across 57 countries

Over the decades, many independent research studies have found that females on average score higher than males on theory of mind tests
Photo Credit: Yuri Levin

Researchers found that females, on average, score higher than males on the widely used ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ Test, which measures ‘theory of mind’ (also known as ‘cognitive empathy’). This finding was observed across all ages and most countries.

The research, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the largest study of theory of mind to date.

A fundamental part of human social interaction and communication involves putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, to imagine another person’s thoughts and feelings. This is known as ‘theory of mind’ or ‘cognitive empathy’.

For decades, researchers have studied the development of theory of mind, from infancy to old age. One of the most widely used tests with which to study theory of mind is the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ Test (or Eyes Test, for short), which asks participants to pick which word best describes what the person in the photo is thinking or feeling, just by viewing photos of the eye region of the face.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Robots are taking over jobs, but not at the rate you might think

The study found that robots aren’t replacing humans at the rate most people think, but people are prone to exaggerate the rate of robot takeover.
Photo Credit: Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

It’s easy to believe that robots are stealing jobs from human workers and drastically disrupting the labor market; after all, you’ve likely heard that chatbots make more efficient customer service representatives and that computer programs are tracking and moving packages without the use of human hands.

But there’s no need to panic about a pending robot takeover just yet, says a new study from BYU sociology professor Eric Dahlin. Dahlin’s research found that robots aren’t replacing humans at the rate most people think, but people are prone to severely exaggerate the rate of robot takeover.

The study, recently published in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, found that only 14% of workers say they’ve seen their job replaced by a robot. But those who have experienced job displacement due to a robot overstate the effect of robots taking jobs from humans by about three times.

To understand the relationship between job loss and robots, Dahlin surveyed nearly 2,000 individuals about their perceptions of jobs being replaced by robots. Respondents were first asked to estimate the percentage of employees whose employers have replaced jobs with robots. They were then asked whether their employer had ever replaced their job with a robot.

Monday, November 7, 2022

New international study concludes digital media can fuel polarization and populism

Image Credit: Thomas Ulrich

The question of whether the rise in usage of digital media is contributing to the erosion of democracy is a source of popular debate, with tech companies arguing the findings are inconclusive.

But now a team of international researchers has carried out a comprehensive review of hundreds of studies globally, the biggest of its kind, exploring this claim and found that while social media is not exclusively bad, it can certainly stoke starkly conflicting views, populism, and political mistrust especially in established democracies.

The researchers, from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the Hertie School in Germany, and the University of Bristol in the UK, systematically assessed studies investigating whether and how digital media impacts people’s political behavior. Studies show that although some effects may be beneficial for democracy, for instance digital media can increase political knowledge and diversity of news exposure, they also have detrimental effects, such as fostering polarization and populism.

Furthermore, the way consequences such as increased political mobilization and decreasing trust in institutions play out depends largely on the political context. Such developments were found to be beneficial in emerging democracies but can have destabilizing effects in established democracies.

Summer camps promote altruism in children

After two weeks of camp, the participants’ level of altruism had increased significantly, while that of the other children had decreased.
Photo Credit: Anna Samoylova

Being able to control oneself, cooperate or help others: having socio-emotional abilities is essential for those who wish to interact positively with their peers. These skills are largely acquired during childhood and can be trained in different contexts, such as school, family or leisure. A team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) has shown that holiday camps Favour their development. They found an increase in altruism among children returning from camps, unlike those who did not participate in this type of stay during their holidays. These results can be found in the journal PLOS ONE.

Knowing how to recognize and manage our own emotions, as well as those of others, and adapting our behavior accordingly: socio-emotional abilities play a key role in our daily lives. They enable us to make decisions that are beneficial to our own well-being and that of our peers, and to establish quality relationships with them. Fostering the development of children, from an early age, is therefore essential.

These skills can be acquired and trained directly or indirectly. They can also be learned in a variety of contexts, such as school, family or leisure. By stimulating prosocial acts such as altruistic behavior, they are a prime target for the prevention of antisocial behavior, i.e. behavior that is confrontational towards others and society. A team from the UNIGE has studied the development of these abilities in a specific context: holiday camps.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Infants are less likely to contract COVID, develop severe symptoms than other household caregivers

Image by Pexels

Infants whose mothers test positive for COVID-19 tend to develop less-severe symptoms than their parents, if they become infected with the virus at all.

In one of the first studies to explore how COVID-19 specifically affects older infants, researchers from the University of Washington and at institutions at four other locations in the Western and Southern U.S. found that the number of infected people in a household was the factor most closely linked with the infant’s likelihood of being infected.

“The focus on infants early in the pandemic was about possible transmission risks during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding, but there were other questions about the risks in the household to infants and other children when caregivers are sick,” said Melanie Martin, assistant professor of anthropology at the UW and the first author of the study, which in the journal Frontiers in Immunology. “Infants are in the most contact, and very close contact, with their caregiver than with any other family members. And so, we asked, "How much are infants at risk, and how do you protect children when they are sick?”

The study analyzed surveys and antibody results (taken from pin-prick blood samples) of 46 pairs of COVID-positive mothers and their infants for two months following maternal infection. Infants were at least 1 month old, and COVID-positive mothers were enrolled in the study within days, sometimes hours, of receiving their positive PCR test results. The researchers also recruited a comparative group of 11 COVID-negative mothers, who tested negative after exposure or symptoms, and a control group of 26 mothers with no known COVID exposures or symptoms.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

People with paranormal beliefs spooked by science and the COVID-19 vaccine

The largest supermoon appearance of 2022, identified as the Buck Moon, rises above the mountain line in Morgantown, July 13. New WVU sociological research shows people who believe in witchcraft, telekinesis and other forms of paranormal phenomenon are more likely to mistrust science and vaccines.
Photo Credit:David Malecki | West Virginia University

The number 13, telekinesis and witchcraft play a part in a person’s mistrust of science and vaccines, including the COVID-19 shot, according to research from West Virginia University sociologists.

Previous research has shown that people with conservative religious beliefs are more likely to lack confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, but most studies have observed only mainstream or institutionalized religious forms. WVU researchers Katie Corcoran, Chris Scheitle and Bernard DiGregorio were curious whether paranormal beliefs — beliefs in astrology and spirits, for instance — would be associated with a similar lack of confidence.

“We were interested in looking at how religion, science and what we call ‘the enchanted worldview’ relate to each other,” said Corcoran, associate professor of sociology in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, explaining that the enchanted worldview incorporates traditional religious beliefs, like beliefs in angels, God, demons and spirits.

“It also incorporates the belief that crystals can heal, belief in astrology and belief that the world is enchanted, that there’s more than the empirical world, beyond just religion. So, this particular project looks at what we call paranormal beliefs, which cut across several different areas.”

Thursday, October 20, 2022

A pandemic ‘baby bump’ is happening in the U.S.

The birth rate increase in 2021 was driven largely by women having their first births and women with a college education who may have been more likely to benefit from working from home.
Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures

Do you have a friend, coworker or family member who recently welcomed a new baby? If so, they’re part of a nationwide trend. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has experienced a subtle “baby bump,” according to a new paper published in the journal National Bureau of Economic Research; co-authored by Northwestern University economist Hannes Schwandt.

Schwandt and his coauthors — Martha Bailey of UCLA and Janet Currie of Princeton University — recently analyzed demographic data covering all U.S. births from 2015 through 2021 and all births in California from 2015 through August 2022. They found that birthrates in the U.S. declined slightly as lockdowns began in early 2020, but rose again in 2021 to create a net increase of 46,000 births above the pre-pandemic trend across the two years combined.

The decrease when lockdowns began in 2020 — nine months too early to represent a fertility response to the pandemic — were mostly due to fewer foreign-born women entering the United States as immigrants and having children here, according to the study.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

‘Long COVID’ effects on business and education

Wenlong Yuan is the Stu Clark Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UM
Credit: University of Manitoba

The pandemic has affected many aspects of our lives, from health consequences to collateral damage to restaurants and “mom and pop stores.” Supply chain problems have created panic shopping among consumers and many entertainment venues have seen the number of patrons decimate.

But what about large corporations such as Wal-Mart, BMO, or Exxon? What has COVID done to them?

Wenlong Yuan is the Stu Clark Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the UM Asper School of Business. His current research includes the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for international business strategy and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“Every kind of firm was affected by COVID,” he says, “so on the macro level we can see a very broad impact of the pandemic. Smaller businesses were hit worse than larger companies, mostly because they had fewer employees, and they couldn’t operate when even a few were sick. But nevertheless, larger businesses felt the effects too.”

Yuan says that previous to COVID, global markets were linked to one another and increases in one sector usually meant a parallel increase in another, like oil and tech stocks varying together.

But COVID created a situation where decoupling emerged, so that the economies of traditionally linked countries began doing their own thing.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Random Acts of Kindness Make a Bigger Splash Than Expected


Even though they often enhance happiness, acts of kindness such as giving a friend a ride or bringing food for a sick family member can be somewhat rare because people underestimate how good these actions make recipients feel, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.

The study by UT Austin McCombs School of Business Assistant Professor of Marketing Amit Kumar, along with Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, found that although givers tend to focus on the object they’re providing or action they’re performing, receivers instead concentrate on the feelings of warmth the act of kindness has conjured up. This means that givers’ “miscalibrated expectations” can function as a barrier to performing more prosocial behaviors such as helping, sharing or donating.

The research is online in advance in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

To quantify these attitudes and behaviors, the researchers conducted a series of experiments.

In one, the researchers recruited 84 participants in Chicago’s Maggie Daley Park. Participants could choose whether to give away to a stranger a cup of hot chocolate from the park’s food kiosk or keep it for themselves. Seventy-five agreed to give it away.

Researchers delivered the hot chocolate to the stranger and told them the study participant had chosen to give them their drink. Recipients reported their mood, and performers indicated how they thought recipients felt after getting the drink.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Research finds LGBTQ people face barriers to health care, especially in rural areas

LGBTQ people may face unique barriers to health care, according to a new study by Zachary Ramsey, doctoral candidate in the WVU School of Public Health. By interviewing researchers and physicians, Ramsey identified four pressing health issues that sexual and gender minorities face: discrimination, heteronormativity, health care system barriers and the interconnectedness of physical, mental and social health. His findings appear in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services.
Credit: West Virginia University

During Pride Month, it’s easy to find rainbow-colored health and wellness products—from bandages, to mouthwash, to fitness trackers—in stores or online. But actual health care that meets the needs of members of the LGBTQ community can be harder to get.

A new qualitative study by Zachary Ramsey—a doctoral candidate in the West Virginia University School of Public Health—suggests sexual and gender minorities may face unique barriers to health care, most particularly in rural areas.

His findings appear in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services.

“Research into sexual and gender minorities is growing quickly, but mainly in large urban centers,” he said. “There are a lot of differences between urban and rural populations for a general population, so it stands to reason that there would be a lot of differences between urban and rural LGBTQ individuals. Without more studies of LGBTQ rural individuals specifically, these differences will not be known, and policies and rural LGBTQ Center programming can only use an urban population for guidance.”

Friday, June 17, 2022

Flawed research not retracted fast enough to prevent spread of misinformation

People who engage with research critically on Twitter may contribute to valuable conservations about science, new research suggests.
Illustration by ijmaki via Pixabay

A new analysis by Northwestern University and University of Michigan researchers suggests retracting academic papers does not dampen the reach of problematic research as intended. Instead, papers that are later retracted are often widely circulated online, both by news outlets and social media, and the cycle of attention that they receive typically dies away before the retraction even happens.

The finding has concerning implications for the spread of misinformation and public trust in science. However, retracted papers included in the analysis were often the subject of more critical discourse on Twitter before their retraction, suggesting that while Twitter should not be an official judge of science, it’s possible that in some communities, it could provide early signals of dubious research.

When a paper is retracted, the goal is to officially discredit it and acknowledge the research as flawed, thereby maintaining the overall integrity of the research enterprise. However, many people who hear about the initial finding may never learn of the retraction.

“Social media and even top news outlets — the most prestigious venues that cover science — are more prone to talk about papers that end up being retracted,” said Ágnes Horvát, an assistant professor of communication and computer science at Northwestern who was an author on the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Friday, May 27, 2022

‘Transformative’ effects of mass gatherings like Burning Man are lasting

Photo by Curtis Simmons, Flickr: simmons_tx

Throughout history, mass gatherings such as collective rituals, ceremonies, and pilgrimages have created intense social bonds and feelings of unity in human societies. But Yale psychologists wondered if modern day secular gatherings that emphasize creativity and community serve an even broader purpose.

The research team studied people’s subjective experiences and social behavior at secular mass gatherings, such as the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. They found that people who reported transformative experiences at the gatherings felt more connected with all of humanity and were more willing to help distant strangers, the researchers report May 27 in the journal Nature Communications.

“We’ve long known that festivals, pilgrimages, and ceremonies make people feel more bonded with their own group,” said Daniel Yudkin, a postdoctoral researcher and first author of the paper. “Here we show that experiences at secular mass gatherings also have the potential to expand the boundaries of moral concern beyond one’s own group.”

The research team, led by M.J. Crockett, an associate professor of psychology at Yale, conducted field studies of more than 1,200 people attending multi-day mass gatherings in the United States and United Kingdom: Burning Man, Burning Nest, Lightning in a Bottle, Dirty Bird, and Latitude, all events that feature art, music, and self-expression.

Unlocking the Secrets of the Brain

Roberto Vargas
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have explored the regions of the brain where concrete and abstract concepts materialize. A new study now explores if people who grow up in different cultures and speak different languages form these concepts in the same regions of the brain.

"We wanted to look across languages to see if our cultural backgrounds influence how we understand, how we perceive abstract ideas like justice," said Roberto Vargas, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and lead author on the study.

Vargas is continuing fundamental research in neural and semantic organization initiated by Marcel Just, the D.O. Hebb University Professor of Psychology. Just began this process more than 30 years ago by scanning the brains of participants using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. His research team began by identifying the regions of the brain that light up for concrete objects, like an apple, and later moved to abstract concepts from physics like force and gravity.

The latest study took the evaluation of abstract concepts one step further by exploring the regions of the brain that fire for abstract objects based on language. In this case, the researchers studied people whose first language is Mandarin or English.

"The lab's research is progress to study universalities of not only single concept representations, but also representations of larger bodies of knowledge such as scientific and technical knowledge," Just said. "Cultures and languages can give us a particular perspective of the world, but our mental filing cabinets are all very similar."

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Children could find it easier to reach a healthier weight if their parents are addressing their own weight

New research presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Maastricht, the Netherlands (4-7 May), has found that many parents attending commercial weight management programs would be happy for their child, if overweight, to also receive support to reach a healthier weight.

The latest figures show that 14.4 per cent of children aged four to five in England and 25.5 per cent of ten to 11-year-olds are living with obesity. Obesity rates in both groups increased by around 4.5 percentage points1 between 2019-20 and 2020-21 – the highest annual rise since the National Child Measurement Program (NCMP) began.

Some local authorities in England run free weight management programs for children. Children can be referred to by their GP, other health professionals, the school, the NCMP or by self-referral, depending on where they live.

These programs, however, are not available in all parts of England, and struggle to recruit, engage and retain members, as well as achieve a clinically significant improvement in weight status.

Dr Mears, a Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Bristol's Centre for Academic Primary Care, said: “We know that parents living with obesity are more likely to have children with obesity and so we decided to look at whether it would be feasible to recruit children through parents attending commercial weight management classes.

“We also decided to focus on this group because we felt that the point at which a parent decides to take steps to reach a healthier weight for themselves might represent a good opportunity to address weight concerns in any other members of the family.

“If the whole family make changes together to reach or maintain a healthier weight, this may be more effective than one family member tackling their weight alone.”

To find out more, Dr Mears and colleagues ran an online survey for Slimming World members.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Higher COVID-19 Death Rates in the Southern U.S. Due to Behavior Differences

During the pre-Omicron phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, regions of the U.S. had markedly different mortality rates, primarily due to differences in mask use, school attendance, social distancing and other behaviors. Had the entire country reacted to the pandemic as the Northeast region, more than 316,000 deaths might have been avoided, 62% of those avoidable deaths being in the South.

The study, by Georgetown University’s School of Nursing & Health Studies researchers, appeared April 28, 2022, in PLOS ONE.

Excess mortality, which helps account for avoidable deaths from a new disease or situation, is defined by the difference between total current deaths and deaths expected based on earlier time period, usually the previous decade or so. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculate these numbers weekly. For this study, the CDC excess mortality data were analyzed for the period between January 3, 2020, to September 26, 2021. For regional comparison purposes, areas of the country were broken down into the Northeast, Midwest, South and West.

“Our goal was to carefully examine regional differences in COVID-19 death rates based on reliable statistical data,” says Michael Stoto, PhD, professor of Health Systems Administration and Population Health at the School of Nursing & Health Studies and corresponding author of the study. “Our study is the first to quantify avoidable deaths and confirm that both COVID-19 deaths and avoidable deaths disproportionately occurred in the South.”

Monday, April 25, 2022

The destructive power of language

Hate expressions can take many forms - they can also be very subtle in the field of language.
Credit: Roberto Schirdewahn

Artificial intelligence can well identify swear words. But it can also recognize more hidden forms of linguistic violence?

"Piss off, you bitch!"" I'll get the bum. I'll stab you."" You should all pop them off. "Just a few examples of the form that language can take on social media. People are insulted, threatened or incited to crime. Prof. is interested in what distinguishes hate speech and other forms of damaging language from a linguistic perspective and how you can automatically recognize them. Dr. Tatjana Scheffler. She conducts research at the RUB in the field of digital forensic linguistics.

"Language processing in general has made big leaps in recent years," says Scheffler. Anyone who uses translation programs such as Google Translator or language assistants such as Siri today will achieve significantly better results than a few years ago. The classification of texts is now working quite well. Artificial intelligence algorithms can learn to assign statements to different categories. For example, you can decide whether a text passage contains a direct insult or not. The algorithms learn the categories using large training data sets that people have previously classified. Later they can transfer the knowledge of the learned categories to new data.

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