1. Study examines effect of looks on job applications

    October 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    While good-looking people are generally believed to receive more favorable treatment in the hiring process, when it comes to applying for less desirable jobs, such as those with low pay or uninteresting work, attractiveness may be a liability, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

    “Our research suggests that attractive people may be discriminated against in selection for relatively less desirable jobs,” said lead author Margaret Lee, a doctoral candidate at the London Business School. “This stands in contrast to a large body of research that concluded that attractiveness, by and large, helps candidates in the selection process.”

    The research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    Lee and her colleagues conducted a series of four experiments involving more than 750 participants, including university students and managers who make hiring decisions in the real world. Participants were shown profiles of two potential job candidates that included photos, one attractive and one unattractive (the photos were vetted by previous research to test attractiveness). The participants were then asked a series of questions designed to measure their perceptions of the job candidates and, in three of the experiments, whether they would hire these candidates for a less-than-desirable job (e.g., warehouse worker, housekeeper, customer service representative) or a more desirable job (e.g., manager, project director, IT internship).

    In all three experiments where they were asked, participants were significantly less likely to hire the attractive candidate for the less desirable job and more likely to hire the attractive candidate for the more desirable job.

    “We found that participants perceived attractive individuals to feel more entitled to good outcomes than unattractive individuals, and that attractive individuals were predicted to be less satisfied with an undesirable job than an unattractive person,” said Lee. “In the selection decision for an undesirable job, decision makers were more likely to choose the unattractive individual over the attractive individual. We found this effect to occur even with hiring managers.”

    The findings were surprising because, based on prior research, the prediction would be that decision makers select the attractive candidate no matter the position, according to Lee.

    “The most interesting part of our findings is that decision makers take into consideration others’ assumed aspirations in their decisions,” said co-author Madan Pillutla, PhD, also of the London Business School. “Because participants thought that attractive individuals would want better outcomes, and therefore participants predicted that attractive individuals would be less satisfied, they reversed their discrimination pattern and favored unattractive candidates when selecting for a less desirable job.”

    This research suggests that the taken-for-granted view that attractive candidates are favored when applying for jobs might be limited to high-level jobs that were the predominant focus of past research, according to Pillutla. Therefore, organizations and policymakers may need to implement different measures from those assumed by past work if they are to curb discrimination in the hiring process, he said.


  2. Fat shaming in the doctor’s office can be mentally and physically harmful

    August 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    weight loss scale feetMedical discrimination based on people’s size and negative stereotypes of overweight people can take a toll on people’s physical health and well-being, according to a review of recent research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

    “Disrespectful treatment and medical fat shaming, in an attempt to motivate people to change their behavior, is stressful and can cause patients to delay health care seeking or avoid interacting with providers,” presenter Joan Chrisler, PhD, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College, said during a symposium titled “Weapons of Mass Distraction — Confronting Sizeism.”

    Sizeism can also have an effect on how doctors medically treat patients, as overweight people are often excluded from medical research based on assumptions about their health status, Chrisler said, meaning the standard dosage for drugs may not be appropriate for larger body sizes. Recent studies have shown frequent under-dosing of overweight patients who were prescribed antibiotics and chemotherapy, she added.

    “Recommending different treatments for patients with the same condition based on their weight is unethical and a form of malpractice,” Chrisler said. “Research has shown that doctors repeatedly advise weight loss for fat patients while recommending CAT scans, blood work or physical therapy for other, average weight patients.”

    In some cases, providers might not take fat patients’ complaints seriously or might assume that their weight is the cause of any symptoms they experience, Chrisler added. “Thus, they could jump to conclusions or fail to run appropriate tests, which results in misdiagnosis,” she said.

    In one study of over 300 autopsy reports, obese patients were 1.65 times more likely than others to have significant undiagnosed medical conditions (e.g., endocarditis, ischemic bowel disease or lung carcinoma), indicating misdiagnosis or inadequate access to health care.

    Studies show that negative attitudes among medical providers can also cause psychological stress in patients, Chrisler said. “Implicit attitudes might be experienced by patients as microaggressions — for example, a provider’s apparent reluctance to touch a fat patient, or a headshake, wince or ‘tsk’ while noting the patient’s weight in the chart,” she said. “Microaggressions are stressful over time and can contribute to the felt experience of stigmatization.”

    A medicalized view of weight conceptualizes fatness as a disease and weight loss as a cure, said Maureen McHugh, PhD, a psychologist who also presented research on fat shaming during the symposium. “A weight-centric model of health assumes that weight is within an individual’s control, equates higher weight with poor health habits, and believes weight loss will result in improved health,” she said.

    Chrisler argued that there is no research that has shown exactly how much weight is too much. Other predictors of illness, such as genetics, diet, stress and poverty, also play a role, yet being fat often leads to the assumption that a person is unhealthy, she said.

    Fat shaming on social media has become prevalent and weight is the most common reason children are bullied in school with 85 percent of surveyed adolescents reportedly seeing overweight classmates teased in gym class, McHugh said.

    Evidence confirms that fat shaming is not an effective approach to reducing obesity or improving health, McHugh said. “Rather, stigmatization of obese individuals poses serious risks to their psychological health,” she added. “Research demonstrates that weight stigma leads to psychological stress, which can lead to poor physical and psychological health outcomes for obese people.”

    It is essential for weight stigma to be addressed in psychology and the medical profession — in training, in theory and research, and in working with fat clients, both Chrisler and McHugh argued. Treatments should focus on mental and physical health as the desired outcomes for therapy, and not on weight, McHugh concluded.


  3. Biased bots: Human prejudices sneak into artificial intelligence systems

    April 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Princeton University, Engineering School press release:

    In debates over the future of artificial intelligence, many experts think of the new systems as coldly logical and objectively rational. But in a new study, researchers have demonstrated how machines can be reflections of us, their creators, in potentially problematic ways. Common machine learning programs, when trained with ordinary human language available online, can acquire cultural biases embedded in the patterns of wording, the researchers found. These biases range from the morally neutral, like a preference for flowers over insects, to the objectionable views of race and gender.

    Identifying and addressing possible bias in machine learning will be critically important as we increasingly turn to computers for processing the natural language humans use to communicate, for instance in doing online text searches, image categorization and automated translations.

    “Questions about fairness and bias in machine learning are tremendously important for our society,” said researcher Arvind Narayanan, an assistant professor of computer science and an affiliated faculty member at the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University, as well as an affiliate scholar at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. “We have a situation where these artificial intelligence systems may be perpetuating historical patterns of bias that we might find socially unacceptable and which we might be trying to move away from.”

    The paper, “Semantics derived automatically from language corpora contain human-like biases,” published April 14 in Science. Its lead author is Aylin Caliskan, a postdoctoral research associate and a CITP fellow at Princeton; Joanna Bryson, a reader at University of Bath, and CITP affiliate, is a coauthor.

    As a touchstone for documented human biases, the study turned to the Implicit Association Test, used in numerous social psychology studies since its development at the University of Washington in the late 1990s. The test measures response times (in milliseconds) by human subjects asked to pair word concepts displayed on a computer screen. Response times are far shorter, the Implicit Association Test has repeatedly shown, when subjects are asked to pair two concepts they find similar, versus two concepts they find dissimilar.

    Take flower types, like “rose” and “daisy,” and insects like “ant” and “moth.” These words can be paired with pleasant concepts, like “caress” and “love,” or unpleasant notions, like “filth” and “ugly.” People more quickly associate the flower words with pleasant concepts, and the insect terms with unpleasant ideas.

    The Princeton team devised an experiment with a program where it essentially functioned like a machine learning version of the Implicit Association Test. Called GloVe, and developed by Stanford University researchers, the popular, open-source program is of the sort that a startup machine learning company might use at the heart of its product. The GloVe algorithm can represent the co-occurrence statistics of words in, say, a 10-word window of text. Words that often appear near one another have a stronger association than those words that seldom do.

    The Stanford researchers turned GloVe loose on a huge trawl of contents from the World Wide Web, containing 840 billion words. Within this large sample of written human culture, Narayanan and colleagues then examined sets of so-called target words, like “programmer, engineer, scientist” and “nurse, teacher, librarian” alongside two sets of attribute words, such as “man, male” and “woman, female,” looking for evidence of the kinds of biases humans can unwittingly possess.

    In the results, innocent, inoffensive biases, like for flowers over bugs, showed up, but so did examples along lines of gender and race. As it turned out, the Princeton machine learning experiment managed to replicate the broad substantiations of bias found in select Implicit Association Test studies over the years that have relied on live, human subjects.

    For instance, the machine learning program associated female names more with familial attribute words, like “parents” and “wedding,” than male names. In turn, male names had stronger associations with career attributes, like “professional” and “salary.” Of course, results such as these are often just objective reflections of the true, unequal distributions of occupation types with respect to gender — like how 77 percent of computer programmers are male, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Yet this correctly distinguished bias about occupations can end up having pernicious, sexist effects. An example: when foreign languages are naively processed by machine learning programs, leading to gender-stereotyped sentences. The Turkish language uses a gender-neutral, third person pronoun, “o.” Plugged into the well-known, online translation service Google Translate, however, the Turkish sentences “o bir doktor” and “o bir hem?ire” with this gender-neutral pronoun are translated into English as “he is a doctor” and “she is a nurse.”

    “This paper reiterates the important point that machine learning methods are not ‘objective’ or ‘unbiased’ just because they rely on mathematics and algorithms,” said Hanna Wallach, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research New York City, who was not involved in the study. “Rather, as long as they are trained using data from society and as long as society exhibits biases, these methods will likely reproduce these biases.”

    Another objectionable example harkens back to a well-known 2004 paper by Marianne Bertrand of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University. The economists sent out close to 5,000 identical resumes to 1,300 job advertisements, changing only the applicants’ names to be either traditionally European American or African American. The former group was 50 percent more likely to be offered an interview than the latter. In an apparent corroboration of this bias, the new Princeton study demonstrated that a set of African American names had more unpleasantness associations than a European American set.

    Computer programmers might hope to prevent cultural stereotype perpetuation through the development of explicit, mathematics-based instructions for the machine learning programs underlying AI systems. Not unlike how parents and mentors try to instill concepts of fairness and equality in children and students, coders could endeavor to make machines reflect the better angels of human nature.

    “The biases that we studied in the paper are easy to overlook when designers are creating systems,” said Narayanan. “The biases and stereotypes in our society reflected in our language are complex and longstanding. Rather than trying to sanitize or eliminate them, we should treat biases as part of the language and establish an explicit way in machine learning of determining what we consider acceptable and unacceptable.”


  4. Study suggests social media tools can reinforce stigma and stereotypes

    April 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University press release:

    Researchers at Oregon State University have developed new software to analyze social media comments, and used this tool in a recent study to better understand attitudes that can cause emotional pain, stigmatize people and reinforce stereotypes.

    In particular, the scientists studied comments and sentiments expressed about Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It found that 51 percent of tweets by private users of Twitter accounts contained stigma, when making reference to this condition and the people who deal with it.

    The new system may be applicable to a range of other social science research questions, the researchers said, and already shows that many people may not adequately appreciate the power of social media to greatly transcend the type of interpersonal, face-to-face communication humans are most accustomed to.

    “As a society it’s like we’re learning a new skill of text communication, and we don’t fully understand or reflect on its power to affect so many people in ways that we may not have intended,” said Nels Oscar, an OSU graduate student in the College of Engineering and lead author on the study.

    “Social media is instant, in some cases can reach millions of people at once, and can even instigate behaviors. We often don’t even know who might eventually read it and how it will affect them.”

    What’s clear, the study showed, is that when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, thoughtless or demeaning comments on a broad level via social media can take an already-serious problem and make it worse.

    The particular topic studied, the scientists said, is of growing importance. A global tripling of individuals with some form of dementia is projected in coming decades, from 43 million today to 131 million by 2050.

    “It was shocking to me how many people stigmatized Alzheimer’s disease and reinforced stereotypes that can further alienate people with this condition,” said Karen Hooker, holder of the Jo Anne Leonard Petersen Endowed Chair in Gerontology and Family Studies, in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “This can create what we call ‘excess disability,’ when people with a stigmatized condition perform worse just because of the negative expectations that damaging stereotypes bring.

    “This type of stigma can make it less likely that people will admit they have problems or seek treatment, when often they can still live satisfying, meaningful and productive lives. Our attitudes, the things we say affect others. And social media is now amplifying our ability to reach others with thoughtless or hurtful comments.”

    The researchers noted a 2012 report which concluded that negative attitudes about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can result in shame, guilt, hopelessness, and social exclusion among stigmatized individuals, leading to delay in diagnosis, inability to cope, and decreased quality of life. It also affects friends, family and caregivers of these individuals.

    A comment a person might never make in a face-to-face conversation, Oscar said, is often transmitted via social media to dozens, hundreds or ultimately thousands of people that were not really intended. Some constraints that might reduce the impact, like clearly making a joke or using sarcasm in a personal conversation, can often get lost in translation to the printed word.

    “A point many people don’t understand when using social media is that their intent is often irrelevant,” Oscar said. “All people eventually see is the comment, without any other context, and have to deal with the pain it can cause.”

    This research was one part of a six-year, $2.3 million project funded by the National Science Foundation to train graduate students in aging sciences and to conduct cross-disciplinary studies on issues of importance to an aging society. The paper was recently published in the Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences. The software created for the project is now freely available for other scientists to use, at http://bit.ly/2p5GmDC

    In the research, the software was designed to recognize and interpret the use of various keywords associated with Alzheimer’s disease, such as dementia, memory loss or senile. The system was improved by comparing results to the same comment evaluated by human researchers, and ultimately achieved an accuracy of about 90 percent in determining whether a comment was meant to be informative, a joke, a metaphor, ridicule, or fit other dimensions.

    The system was then used to analyze 33,000 tweets that made some reference to Alzheimer’s disease.

    People concerned about these issues, the OSU researchers suggested, might be more conscious of their own comments on social media, and also more willing to engage with others who are using language that is insensitive or potentially hurtful.

    “We should also consider ways to combat stigma and negative stereotypes by tweeting about the positive experiences of persons with dementia and people in their social networks,” Hooker said.


  5. Information avoidance: From health to politics, people select their own reality

    March 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University press release:

    We live in an unprecedented “age of information.” Dieters have access to nutritional information, people at risk of genetic disease can undergo cutting-edge medical tests and citizens in modern democracies have access to a wide range of news sources covering the entire political spectrum.

    However, for all the information that is out there, people make use of very little of it. Those on diets, for example, often prefer not to look at the number of calories in a tasty dessert, people at high risk for a disease avoid screening tests that could give them a definite answer, and most consumers of news choose sources that align with rather than challenge their political ideology. Indeed, people at times actively avoid useful information that is available to them.

    Drawing on research in economics, psychology, and sociology, Carnegie Mellon University’s George Loewenstein, Russell Golman and David Hagmann illustrate how people deliberately avoid information that threatens their happiness and wellbeing. Published in the Journal of Economic Literature, they show that, while a simple failure to obtain information is the most clear-cut case of “information avoidance,” people have a wide range of other information-avoidance strategies at their disposal. They are also remarkably adept at selectively directing their attention to information that affirms what they believe or that reflects favorably upon them, and at forgetting information they wish were not true.

    “The standard account of information in economics is that people should seek out information that will aid in decision making, should never actively avoid information, and should dispassionately update their views when they encounter new valid information,” said Loewenstein, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology who co-founded the field of behavioral economics.

    Loewenstein continued, “But people often avoid information that could help them to make better decisions if they think the information might be painful to receive. Bad teachers, for example, could benefit from feedback from students, but are much less likely to pore over teaching ratings than skilled teachers.”

    Even when people cannot outright ignore information, they often have substantial latitude in how to interpret it. Questionable evidence is often treated as credible when it confirms what someone wants to believe — as is the case of discredited research linking vaccines to autism. And, by the same token, evidence that meets the rigorous demands of science is often discounted if it goes against what people want to believe, as illustrated by widespread dismissal of scientific evidence of climate change.

    Information avoidance can harm individual wellbeing, as when people miss opportunities to treat serious diseases early on or fail to learn about better financial investments that could prepare them for retirement. It also has large societal implications. The demand for ideologically aligned information drives media bias, which fuels political polarization: When basic facts are no longer part of a shared understanding, the foundation of societal discourse disappears.

    “An implication of information avoidance is that we do not engage effectively with those who disagree with us,” said Hagmann, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences. “Bombarding people with information that challenges their cherished beliefs — the usual strategy that people employ in attempts at persuasion — is more likely to engender defensive avoidance than receptive processing. If we want to reduce political polarization, we have to find ways not only to expose people to conflicting information, but to increase people’s receptivity to information that challenges what they believe and want to believe.”

    Despite its evident pitfalls and costs, information avoidance isn’t always a mistake or a reflection of a lazy mind.

    “People do it for a reason,” said Golman, assistant professor of social and decision sciences. “Those who do not take a genetic test can enjoy their life until their illness can’t be ignored, an inflated sense of our own abilities can help us to pursue big and worthwhile goals, and not looking at our financial investments when markets are down may keep us from selling in a panic.”

    Understanding when, why, and how people avoid information can help governments and firms alike to reach their audiences effectively without drowning them in unwanted messages.


  6. Frankly, we do give a damn: Study finds links between swearing and honesty

    January 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Cambridge media release:

    computer frustrationIt’s long been associated with anger and coarseness but profanity can have another, more positive connotation. Psychologists have learned that people who frequently curse are being more honest.

    Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science a team of researchers from the Netherlands, the UK, the USA and Hong Kong report that people who use profanity are less likely to be associated with lying and deception.

    Profanity is obscene language which, in some social settings is considered inappropriate and unacceptable. It often refers to language that contains sexual references, blasphemy or other vulgar terms. It’s usually related to the expression of emotions such as anger, frustration or surprise. But profanity can also be used to entertain and win over audiences.

    There are conflicting attitudes to profanity and its social impact has changed over the decades. In 1939, Clark Gable uttering the memorable line “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” in the film Gone with the Wind, was enough to land the producers a $5,000 fine. Nowadays our movies, TV shows and books are peppered with profane words and, for the most part, we are more tolerant of them.

    As dishonesty and profanity are both considered deviant they are often viewed as evidence of low moral standards. On the other hand, profanity can be positively associated with honesty. It is often used to express unfiltered feelings and sincerity. The researchers cite the example of President-elect Donald Trump who used swear words in some of his speeches while campaigning in last year’s US election and was considered, by some, to be more genuine than his rivals.

    Dr David Stillwell, a lecturer in Big Data Analytics at the University of Cambridge, and a co-author on the paper, says: “The relationship between profanity and dishonesty is a tricky one. Swearing is often inappropriate but it can also be evidence that someone is telling you their honest opinion. Just as they aren’t filtering their language to be more palatable, they’re also not filtering their views. ”

    The international team of researchers set out to gauge people’s views about this sort of language in a series of questionnaires which included interactions with social media users.

    In the first questionnaire 276 participants were asked to list their most commonly used and favourite swear words. They were also asked to rate their reasons for using these words and then took part in a lie test to determine whether they were being truthful or simply responding in the way they thought was socially acceptable. Those who wrote down a higher number of curse words were less likely to be lying.

    A second survey involved collecting data from 75,000 Facebook users to measure their use of swear words in their online social interactions. The research found that those who used more profanity were also more likely to use language patterns that have been shown in previous research to be related to honesty, such as using pronouns like “I” and “me.” The Facebook users were recruited from across the United States and their responses highlight the differing views to profanity that exist between different geographical areas. For example, those in the north-eastern states (such as Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and New York) were more likely to swear whereas people were less likely to in the southern states (South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi).


  7. Women as decorative accessories: Keep silent or take a stance?

    January 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Springer media release:

    mirror, agingHow do Italian women react once they are made aware that using bikini-clad models draped over sports cars or scantily dressed actresses on television actually degrades and objectifies the female sex into mere sexual objects?

    Most become angry and want to support protests against such female sexual objectification, says Francesca Guizzo of the University of Padova in Italy, lead author of a study in Springer’s journal Sex Roles. She believes awareness campaigns targeting women can be powerful tools to call them to action to make a stance against sexualized images and unrealistic beauty ideals that are regularly shown on television.

    “In many Western countries we are accustomed to being exposed to media images of undressed and sexy bodies often used as decorative objects or instruments to attract new consumers,” explains Guizzo, who says that women are far more likely than men to be hyper-sexualized in advertisements, magazines, films and television. Such sexual objectification by the media can degrade women, influence the way they are treated, and affect their psyche and sense of self-worth.

    To shed more light on the influence of such media portrayals in Italy, Guizzo’s team recruited 78 Italian men and 81 women. Participants watched a television clip in which women are sexually objectified (sexual objectification video clip) or the same clip with a commentary added explaining why the footage degrades women (critique video clip) or a nature documentary (control condition).

    After watching the critique video clip, female participants were more prone to recognize the disadvantaged position of women in society, and they felt angrier and guiltier about how the Italian media and society treat them. Moreover, women were more willing to support collective action (such as the signing of petitions and participation in a rally). The same effect was not noted among men.

    It was also found that people who are habitually exposed to sexually objectifying TV are generally less likely to take a collective stance against such degrading exposure. It also influenced women’s intention to do something about it. These results extend previous research showing that frequent exposure to sexualized media increases endorsement of stereotypical gender roles and the view of women as sexual objects.

    “The overall pattern of results suggests that the chronic exposure to objectifying media might lead to the dangerous assumption that such female portrayal is the norm, thus further reducing people’s likelihood to react,” says Guizzo.

    She believes that sensitizing campaigns could represent, at least for women, a powerful tool to raise awareness and to motivate individuals to engage in collective action aimed at improving media portrayals of women. “Media literacy messages in the form of critique videos may be valuable tools to promote more active and critical media consumption and media specialists, concerned citizens, and social media activists may use such messages to motivate women to collectively take action against sexual objectification,” she adds.


  8. Losing sleep over discrimination? ‘everyday discrimination’ may contribute to sleep problems

    by Ashley

    From the Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins media release:

    People who perceive more discrimination in daily life have higher rates of sleep problems, based on both subjective and objective measures, reports a study in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, the official journal of the American Psychosomatic Society. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer.

    “Discrimination is an important factor associated with sleep measures in middle-aged adults,” according to the report by Sherry Owens, PhD, of West Virginia University, Morgantown, and colleagues. The results add to previous research suggesting that discrimination and chronic stress may lead to sleep difficulties and increased health risks.

    Discrimination Related to Both Objective and Subjective Sleep Problems

    The study included 441 adults from a nationwide study of health and well-being in middle age and beyond (the MIDUS Study). The participants’ average age was 47 years; about one-third were of non-white race/ethnicity. Complete data were available for 361 participants.

    Participants wore an activity monitor device for one week to gather data on objective sleep measures — for example, sleep efficiency, calculated as the percentage of time spent in bed that the person was asleep. They also completed subjective sleep ratings — for example, how often they had sleep problems.

    Perceived experiences of discrimination were assessed using a validated “Everyday Discrimination Scale.” For example, subjects were asked how often they were treated with less courtesy or respect than others, or how often they were insulted or harassed.

    Discrimination scores were analyzed for association with the objective and subjective sleep measures. Objective measures indicated that about one-third of participants had poor sleep efficiency. Subjectively, one-half of subjects rated themselves as having poor sleep quality.

    Participants who perceived more discrimination had increased sleep problems, after adjustment for demographic, lifestyle, and health factors. Higher discrimination scores were associated with 12 percent higher odds of poor sleep efficiency and a nine percent increase in the odds of poor sleep quality. Discrimination was also related to (objective) time spent awake after falling asleep and (subjective) overall sleep difficulties.

    Non-white subjects had nearly four times the odds of poor sleep efficiency. Otherwise, all differences in sleep measures between white and non-white subjects were related to discrimination.

    Older participants and men were more likely to have some types of sleep problems. Age, sex, and mental/physical health factors explained only a small proportion of the effects of discrimination.

    Previous studies have suggested that racial/ethnic minorities have worse sleep quality. Inadequate sleep is associated with adverse health outcomes, including increased cardiovascular risks and increased mortality. These consequences of poor sleep may account for some of racial/ethnic variation in health outcomes — possibly reflecting inadequate recovery from chronic daily stressors.

    While poor sleep has previously been linked to higher perceived discrimination, the new study is the first to look at how discrimination affects both objective and subjective sleep measures. “The findings support the model that discrimination acts as a stressor than can disrupt subjective and objective sleep,” Dr. Owens and coauthors write.

    The researchers call for further study to confirm and clarify the implications of their findings. Meanwhile, they believe the study adds a “finer resolution” to previous knowledge the relationship between discrimination and sleep — and suggests a possible “causal pathway” connecting chronic discrimination to sleep problems, and thus to increased health risks.


  9. Lack of joy from music linked to brain disconnection

    January 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the McGill University media release:

    Brain MusicHave you ever met someone who just wasn’t into music? They may have a condition called specific musical anhedonia, which affects three-to-five per cent of the population.

    Researchers at the University of Barcelona and the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University have discovered that people with this condition showed reduced functional connectivity between cortical regions responsible for processing sound and subcortical regions related to reward.

    To understand the origins of specific musical anhedonia, researchers recruited 45 healthy participants who completed a questionnaire measuring their level of sensitivity to music and divided them into three groups of sensitivity based on their responses. The test subjects then listened to music excerpts inside an fMRI machine while providing pleasure ratings in real-time. To control for their brain response to other reward types, participants also played a monetary gambling task in which they could win or lose real money.

    Using the fMRI data, the researchers found that while listening to music, specific musical anhedonics presented a reduction in the activity of the Nucleus Accumbens, a key subcortical structure of the reward network. The reduction was not related to a general improper functioning of the Nucleus Accumbens itself, since this region was activated when they won money in the gambling task.

    Specific musical anhedonics, however, did show reduced functional connectivity between cortical regions associated with auditory processing and the Nucleus Accumbens. In contrast, individuals with high sensitivity to music showed enhanced connectivity.

    The fact that subjects could be insensible to music while still responsive to another stimulus like money suggests different pathways to reward for different stimuli. This finding may pave the way for the detailed study of the neural substrates underlying other domain-specific anhedonias and, from an evolutionary perspective, help us to understand how music acquired reward value.

    Lack of brain connectivity has been shown to be responsible for other deficits in cognitive ability. Studies of children with autism spectrum disorder, for example, have shown that their inability to experience the human voice as pleasurable may be explained by a reduced coupling between the bilateral posterior superior temporal sulcus and distributed nodes of the reward system, including the Nucleus Accumbens. This latest research reinforces the importance of neural connectivity in the reward response of human beings.

    “These findings not only help us to understand individual variability in the way the reward system functions, but also can be applied to the development of therapies for treatment of reward-related disorders, including apathy, depression, and addiction,” says Robert Zatorre, an MNI neuroscientist and one of the paper’s co-authors.

     


  10. Students have trouble judging the credibility of information online, researchers find

    November 23, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Stanford University media release:

    studying problemsWhen it comes to evaluating information that flows across social channels or pops up in a Google search, young and otherwise digital-savvy students can easily be duped, finds a new report from researchers at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

    The report, released this week by the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG), shows a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the Internet, the authors said. Students, for example, had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from.

    Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there,” said Professor Sam Wineburg, the lead author of the report and founder of SHEG. “Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

    The researchers began their work in January 2015, well before the most recent debates over fake news and its influence on the presidential election.

    The scholars tackled the question of “civic online reasoning” because there were few ways to assess how students evaluate online information and to identify approaches to teach the skills necessary to distinguish credible sources from unreliable ones.

    The authors worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish.

    Many of the materials on web credibility were state-of-the-art in 1999. So much has changed but many schools are stuck in the past,” said Joel Breakstone, the director of SHEG, which has designed social studies curriculum that teaches students how to evaluate primary sources. That curriculum has been downloaded 3.5 million times, and is used by several school districts.

    The new report covered news literacy, as well as students’ ability to judge Facebook and Twitter feeds, comments left in readers’ forums on news sites, blog posts, photographs and other digital messages that shape public opinion.

    The assessments reflected key understandings the students should possess such as being able to find out who wrote a story and whether that source is credible. The authors drew on the expertise of teachers, university researchers, librarians and news experts to come up with 15 age-appropriate tests — five each for middle school, high school and college levels.

    In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation,” the authors wrote.

    In middle school they tested basic skills, such as the trustworthiness of different tweets or articles.

    One assessment required middle schoolers to explain why they might not trust an article on financial planning that was written by a bank executive and sponsored by a bank. The researchers found that many students did not cite authorship or article sponsorship as key reasons for not believing the article.

    Another assessment had middle school students look at the homepage of Slate. They were asked to identify certain bits of content as either news stories or advertisements. The students were able to identify a traditional ad — one with a coupon code — from a news story pretty easily. But of the 203 students surveyed, more than 80 percent believed a native ad, identified with the words “sponsored content,” was a real news story.

    At the high school level, one assessment tested whether students were familiar with key social media conventions, including the blue checkmark that indicates an account was verified as legitimate by Twitter and Facebook.

    Students were asked to evaluate two Facebook posts announcing Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. One was from the verified Fox News account and the other was from an account that looked like Fox News. Only a quarter of the students recognized and explained the significance of the blue checkmark. And over 30 percent of students argued that the fake account was more trustworthy because of some key graphic elements that it included.

    “This finding indicates that students may focus more on the content of social media posts than on their sources,” the authors wrote. “Despite their fluency with social media, many students are unaware of basic conventions for indicating verified digital information.”

    The assessments at the college level focused on more complex reasoning. Researchers required students to evaluate information they received from Google searches, contending that open Internet searches turn up contradictory results that routinely mix fact with falsehood.

    For one task, students had to determine whether Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, believed in state-sponsored euthanasia. A typical Google search shows dozens of websites addressing the topic from opposite angles.

    “Making sense of search results is even more challenging with politically charged topics,” the researchers said. “A digitally literate student has the knowledge and skill to wade through mixed results to find reliable and accurate information.”

    In another assessment, college students had to evaluate website credibility. The researchers found that high production values, links to reputable news organizations and polished “About” pages had the ability to sway students into believing without very much skepticism the contents of the site.

    The assessments were administered to students across 12 states. In total, the researchers collected and analyzed 7,804 student responses. Field-testing included under-resourced schools in Los Angeles and well-resourced schools in the Minneapolis suburbs. College assessments were administered at six different universities.

    Wineburg says the next steps to this research include helping educators use these tasks to track student understanding and to adjust instruction. He also envisions developing curriculum for teachers, and the Stanford History Education Group has already begun to pilot lesson plans in local high schools. Finally, the researchers hope to produce videos showing the depth of the problem and demonstrating the link between digital literacy and informed citizenship.

    As recent headlines demonstrate, this work is more important now than ever,” Wineburg said. “In the coming months, we look forward to sharing our assessments and working with educators to create materials that will help young people navigate the sea of disinformation they encounter online.”

    The research was funded by a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. Besides Breakstone and Wineburg, co-authors included Stanford researchers Sarah McGrew and Teresa Ortega.

    An executive summary of the report is available here.