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

Monday, April 17, 2023

Natural flood prevention, higher trust through better communication

2013 flood on the Elbe near Dessau-Rosslau.
Photo Credit: André Künzelmann / UFZ

A UFZ study shows: If the population feels well informed, it has a more positive view towards nature-based flood prevention

In many places today, dikes are being moved back, and floodplains are being revitalized in order to give the river more space during times of flooding. This should make flood protection more effective and reduce the risk of flooding in inhabited areas. Nevertheless, natural flood prevention projects are often met with considerable resistance from the general population. Why is that? Researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Potsdam have investigated this question in a social science study. They found that fear, personal experience of flooding, and a lack of information play a particular role in this. According to the research team, when flood protection measures are planned, the general population should be involved and informed as early as possible. The study was recently published in Risk Analysis.

There have been repeated flood disasters in Germany in recent decades. For example, in 2002 and 2013 along the Elbe and in 2021 in the Eifel region. As climate change progresses, severe floods are expected to occur more frequently. It is therefore important to quickly implement effective protection measures in vulnerable areas. 

Friday, April 14, 2023

Location intelligence shines a light on disinformation

Each dot represents a Twitterer discussing COVID-19 from April 16 to April 22, 2021. The closer the dots are to the center, the greater the influence. The brighter the color, the stronger the intent.
Image Credit: ORNL

Using disinformation to create political instability and battlefield confusion dates back millennia.

However, today’s disinformation actors use social media to amplify disinformation that users knowingly or, more often, unknowingly perpetuate. Such disinformation spreads quickly, threatening public health and safety. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic and recent global elections have given the world a front-row seat to this form of modern warfare.

A group at ORNL now studies such threats thanks to the evolution at the lab of location intelligence, or research that uses open data to understand places and the factors that influence human activity in them. In the past, location intelligence has informed emergency response, urban planning, transportation planning, energy conservation and policy decisions. Now, location intelligence at ORNL also helps identify disinformation, or shared information that is intentionally misleading, and its impacts.

Monday, February 13, 2023

A sense of purpose may have significant impact on teens' emotional well-being

Educational psychology professor Kaylin Ratner found in a study of more than 200 adolescents that feeling a sense of purpose had a significant impact on their emotional well-being. Those who scored high on purposefulness were more satisfied with their lives and experienced more positive emotions in general. 
Photo Credit: Fred Zwicky

Adolescents who feel a greater sense of purpose may be happier and more satisfied with life than peers who feel less purposeful, suggests a recent study of more than 200 teens.

Studies with adults have suggested that a sense of purpose in life is an integral component of well-being that fuels hope and optimism and has a variety of positive effects on individuals’ physical and mental health.

However, less is known about the effects of purposefulness in adolescents, who, while characteristically hopeful, are in the throes of developing their identities, making choices that reflect who they are and aspire to be, according to the study.

Educational psychology professor Kaylin Ratner of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign led the current study, which examined how youths’ feelings of purposefulness related to their daily levels of life satisfaction and subjective well-being.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Study finds much still not known about cognitive decline

Why do some elderly people keep their cognitive ability much longer than others? Scientists still have much to learn.
Photo Credit: Alexandra Lowenthal

The risk factors linked to cognitive decline in older adults explain a surprisingly modest amount about the large variation in mental abilities between older people, according to a new national study.

Researchers found that the factors most commonly associated with cognitive functioning – including socioeconomic status, education and race – explained only 38% of the variation in functioning among Americans at age 54.

Health behaviors such as avoiding obesity and smoking and participating in vigorous exercise had only very small effects on functioning by the time people reached their mid-50s.

In addition, the factors studied explained only 5.6% of the variation in how quickly cognitive functioning declined in people between age 54 and 85.

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.

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