1. Shooting, gang violence exposure leads to PTSD

    December 13, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University media release:

    memory vanishingThe violence that women in disadvantaged neighborhoods experience and witness can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and full diagnoses, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study that examined a disadvantaged Chicago neighborhood.

    Also noteworthy, women with PTSD diagnosis or sub-threshold PTSD had significantly more severe depression symptoms than women in the study who didn’t report experiencing trauma. Every woman who was recruited had symptoms of depression.

    “There are many women who are affected by shooting and gang violence in these neighborhoods,” said first author Sunghyun Hong, a research assistant at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “These women are often overlooked. With this study, we were able to shine a light on this high prevalence of trauma exposure and PTSD diagnosis among the underserved population.”

    This is one of very few studies to explicitly examine the impact that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood has on PTSD symptoms. The study was published Dec. 7 in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (pdf of study available for free download at this link).

    The traumatic experiences reported in the study were often violent or sexual in nature. One woman disclosed having witnessed the fatal shooting of her son, and another woman reported watching her father be murdered in her home.

    The neighborhood from which women in the study were recruited ranked 7th for property crime, 26th for quality of life crime and 35th for violent crime among 77 Chicago neighborhoods.

    Thirty-six percent of women in the study had PTSD or sub-threshold PTSD (substantial trauma symptoms that might not have met the full PTSD diagnostic criteria). Those with PTSD had more severe depression symptoms than other women in the study who did not exhibit signs of PTSD, said principal investigator and senior author Inger Burnett-Zeigler, clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg.

    “Even if you don’t meet the full criteria for PTSD, you can have enough symptoms to impact your well-being,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “There is a substantial proportion of people who fall below the PTSD diagnosis line who might be getting lost in the cracks. It’s important for mental health providers to develop a greater awareness around this because untreated PTSD symptoms affect mental health, quality of life and functioning.”

    A significant percentage of women in a general population who experienced trauma (20 percent) develop PTSD she said.

    “But the prevalence of PTSD symptoms is particularly acute in impoverished neighborhoods,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “In the study’s sample, 71 percent of the women who experienced trauma had PTSD symptoms.”

    “This wasn’t a sample we recruited based on having traumatic experiences, and yet so many women we recruited had experienced something traumatic,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “That is really significant in terms of how prevalent of an issue this is in that vulnerable population.


  2. Game theory research reveals fragility of common resources

    September 29, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Purdue University media release:

    gambling toolsNew research in game theory shows that people are naturally predisposed to over-use “common-pool resources” such as transportation systems and fisheries even if it risks failure of the system, to the detriment of society as a whole.

    The ongoing research harnesses the Nash equilibrium, developed by Nobel laureate John Nash, whose life was chronicled in the film “A Beautiful Mind,” and also applies “prospect theory,” which describes how people make decisions when there is uncertainty and risk.

    The research could have implications for the management of engineered systems such as the power grid, communications systems, distribution systems, and online file sharing systems, along with natural systems such as fisheries.

    “We are surrounded by large-scale complex systems, and as engineers we are trying to figure out how to design systems to be more robust and secure,” said Shreyas Sundaram, an assistant professor in Purdue University’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “One aspect would be how you could engineer systems so that the incentives for people to use them are aligned with perhaps what’s best for society. As a government, what sorts of things can you do to make sure people use systems in a responsible manner?”

    Doctoral student Ashish Hota is leading the research, which is the focus of his thesis.

    “The main theoretical framework we are using is the language of game theory, which concerns the analysis of decision making by multiple individuals when the benefits of their decisions depend on what other people are doing,” Sundaram said. “At a Nash equilibrium, people selfishly select options that will yield the highest benefit for them, often to the detriment of their collective benefit.

    Findings are detailed in a research paper that appeared in the July issue of the game-theory journal Games and Economic Behavior.

    An example of a Nash equilibrium is illustrated in the so-called “prisoner’s dilemma,” where two robbers are caught by police and questioned independently. They would both benefit by agreeing ahead of time not to squeal on each other.

    The problem with this rational thinking is that if I know you are not going to rat me out, I stand to benefit more by ratting you out and optimizing my chances of getting away with it,” Sundaram said. “So the only Nash equilibrium is for both of you to rat each other out. If your accomplice is ratting you out there is no benefit in you not ratting him out because you are going to take more of the blame for the crime.”

    Understanding the behavior at the Nash equilibrium can be challenging when the outcomes are uncertain. Complicating matters is that different people have different risk preferences.

    In many applications, people decide how much of a resource to use, and they know that if they use a certain amount and if others use a certain amount they are going to get some return, but at the risk that the resource is going to fail,” he said.

    Sundaram and Hota have analyzed the Nash equilibrium when risk preferences are modeled according to prospect theory, a Nobel-prize winning theory that captures how humans make decisions in uncertain situations.

    The key is that you have to consider how people actually perceive wins and losses, and this is where prospect theory comes in,” Sundaram said. “Whereas classical models have not looked at how people actually evaluate gains and losses and probabilities, Ashish’s work has been looking at what happens at the Nash equilibrium when we incorporate these more complex risk preferences. We wanted to determine the failure probability, which we refer to as the fragility of the resource, as a function of the risk preferences of the users.”

    In a society that tightly controls the use of resources, failure is less likely.

    “This is why the notion of a Nash equilibrium ends up being key,” he said. “The Nash equilibrium captures the idea that nobody is forcing you to do the right thing. You are doing just what you want to do to optimize your own benefit. If, however, it’s a resource that is very carefully managed by a central authority, the failure probability is lower.”

    The researchers found that the resource has a higher likelihood of failure at the Nash equilibrium under prospect theory.

    “This means human beings will over-utilize their resources, compared to what is predicted by classical models of decision making,” Sundaram said.

    Furthermore, people have differing, or heterogeneous, aversions to losing. In free societies, where people can exercise decisions based on their differing loss aversion, total use of a common resource is higher than otherwise.

    The researchers also are studying how imposing taxes to incentivize human behavior impacts its likelihood of failure.

    Future work will include research to apply the approach to cybersecurity, probing how people make decisions under risk.

    “Similar reasoning can be applied to cybersecurity,” Hota said. “Understanding how people perceive security risks is critical toward designing more secure systems.”


  3. Study of fatal car accidents suggests medical marijuana may be helping curb opioid use

    September 17, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Columbia University Medical Center media release:

    marijuanaA study conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that there were fewer drivers killed in car crashes who tested positive for opioids in states with medical marijuana laws than before the laws went into effect. The study is one of the first to assess the link between state medical marijuana laws and opioid use at the individual level. Findings will be published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

    Researchers analyzed 1999-2013 Fatality Analysis Reporting System data from 18 U.S. states that tested for alcohol and other drugs in at least 80 percent of drivers who died within one hour of crashing. They looked at opioid positivity among drivers ages 21 to 40 who crashed their cars in states with an operational medical marijuana law compared with drivers crashing in states before those laws went into effect. There was an overall reduction in opioid positivity for most states after implementation of an operational medical marijuana law.

    We would expect the adverse consequences of opioid use to decrease over time in states where medical marijuana use is legal, as individuals substitute marijuana for opioids in the treatment of severe or chronic pain,” explained June H. Kim, MPhil, a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, and lead author.

    Among the 68,394 deceased drivers, approximately 42 percent were fatally injured in states that had an operational medical marijuana laws, 25 percent died in states before an operational law went into effect, and 33 percent died in states that had never passed a medical marijuana law.

    In 1996, California was the first state to pass a voter-initiated medical marijuana law. Since then, 22 additional states and the District of Columbia have enacted their own medical marijuana laws either by voter initiatives or through state legislation. “The trend may have been particularly strong among the age group surveyed because minimum age requirements restrict access to medical marijuana to patients age 21 and older, and most medical marijuana patients are younger than 45,” noted Kim. According to the authors, they would expect to see similar reductions in opioid use among older cohorts if medical marijuana is increasingly embraced by older generations.

    “This study is about the possible substitution relationship between marijuana and opioids. The toxicological testing data for fatally injured drivers lend some suggestive evidence that supports the substitution hypothesis in young adults, but not in older adults,“said Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, Mailman School professor of Epidemiology, the founding director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia, and senior author.

    “As states with these laws move toward legalizing marijuana more broadly for recreational purposes, future studies are needed to assess the impact these laws may have on opioid use,” noted Kim.


  4. Witnesses can catch criminals by smell: Human nose-witnesses identify criminals in a lineup of body odor

    June 10, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers media release:

    sad winter manMove over sniffer dogs, people who witnessed a crime are able to identify criminals by their smell. Police lineups normally rely on sight, but nose-witnesses can be just as reliable as eye-witnesses, new research published inFrontiers in Psychology has found.

    Police often use human eye-witnesses, and even ear-witnesses, in lineups but, to date, there have not been any human nose-witnesses;” explained Professor Mats Olsson, experimental psychologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden; “We wanted to see if humans can identify criminals by their body odor.”

    Dogs have been used to identify criminals through body odor identification in court, but it is commonly thought that the human sense of smell is inferior to that of other mammals. However, research shows that humans have the ability to distinguish individuals by their unique body odor. Our olfactory sense is often associated with emotional processing and is directly linked to the areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory; the hippocampus and the amygdala.

    To find out more about human odor memory following stressful events, Olsson and his team investigated how well we identify body odor in a forensic setup. In their first study, participants watched video clips of people committing violent crimes, accompanied by a body odor that they were told belonged to the perpetrator.

    They also watched neutral videos, with a similar setup. Then they identified the criminal’s body odor from a lineup of five different men’s odors, showing correct identification in almost 70% of cases. “It worked beyond my expectation;” explained Olsson; “Most interestingly — participants were far better at remembering and identifying the body odor involved in the emotional setting.”

    Olsson has tested the limits of our nose-witness ability. The team conducted the same experiment but varied the lineup size — three, five and eight body odors, and the time between observing the videos and undertaking the lineup — 15 minutes up to one week. In lineups of up to eight body odors, participants were still able to distinguish the criminal.

    The accuracy of their identification did reduce with the larger lineup size, which is in line with studies on eye and ear-witnesses. The results also show that the ability to distinguish the criminal’s body odor is significantly impaired if the lineup is conducted after one week of having smelt the offender’s body odor.

    There is ongoing research into how the memory of a crime scene can be affected by emotion. This is largely focused on visual memory as visual lineups are the common method of criminal identification.

    “Our work shows that we can distinguish a culprit’s body odor with some certainty;” concluded Olsson; “This could be useful in criminal cases where the victim was in close contact with the assailant but did not see them and so cannot visually identify them.”


  5. Exposure to violence during pregnancy increases risk of prematurity and low birthweight

    April 19, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Leicester media release:

    domestic violence abuseIn a recent paper published in the Journal of Development Economics, researchers Professor Marco Manacorda (Queen Mary University of London) and Dr Martin Foureaux Koppensteiner (University of Leicester) focused on evidence from the exposure of day-to-day violence in Brazil by analysing the birth outcomes of children whose mothers were exposed to local violence, as measured by homicide rates in small Brazilian municipalities and the neighbourhoods of the city of Fortaleza.

    The team estimated the effect of violence on birth outcomes by comparing mothers who were exposed to a homicide during pregnancy to otherwise similar mothers residing in the same area, who happened not to be exposed to homicides.

    The study found that birthweight falls significantly among newborns exposed to a homicide during pregnancy and the number of children classified as being low birthweight increases — and that the effects are concentrated on the first trimester of pregnancy, which is consistent with claims that stress-induced events matter most when occurring early in pregnancy.

    The study found:

    • One additional homicide in small municipalities during the first trimester leads to a reduction in birthweight of around 17g
    • Considering the birth weight classification, one extra homicide leads to an increase in the probability of low birthweight by 0.6 percentage points, an 8% increase compared to baseline
    • Results for the neighbourhoods of Fortaleza, where homicides are much more frequent, are considerably smaller (around 15% of the effects for small municipalities), which is consistent with the interpretation that violence is more stress inducing when they are rare
    • Because of the endemic levels of violence in Fortaleza, the team’s calculations show that homicides can account for 1% of the incidence of low birthweight and 3.5% of the incidence of very low birthweight.

    Dr Martin Foureaux Koppensteiner from the University of Leicester’s Department of Economics explained: “We provide evidence that these effects on birthweight are driven by prematurity rather than growth retardation of full lengths pregnancies, in line with evidence from the medical literature.

    “As the mothers examined in the study are likely to live in very similar environments, by exploiting the precise timing of the occurrence of homicides we are able to disentangle the causal effect of homicides from other correlated effects that may otherwise bias these estimates.

    This study used modelled data, which is one of the ways that we can predict causal relationships.

    “We also find that socio-economic factors, such as the mothers’ low level of education appear to amplify the adverse consequences of violence on birth outcomes, implying that violence compounds the disadvantage that newborns from low socio-economic status already suffer.”

    Professor Marco Manacorda added: “Our results have the potential to generalize to other settings where violence is endemic, as is true for many middle and low-income countries in Latin America and Africa. The results presented shed light on the additional cost of violence, largely ignored previously, in these countries.”

    The study was supported through a grant by the Inter-American Development Bank under the aegis of the programme ‘The Cost of Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean’.


  6. ‘I care for you,’ says the autistic moral brain

    March 31, 2016 by Ashley

    From the International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA) media release:

    autism lonely child“Autistic people are cold and feel no empathy.” True? It is a pervasive stereotype, but when analyzed through the lens of science, reality turns out to be quite different.

    According to a study at SISSA, carried out in collaboration with the University of Vienna, when autistic people are placed in “moral dilemma” situations, they show an empathic response similar to the general population. The myth of coldness in autism is likely due to the presence of the subclinical trait of alexithymia, which is often associated with autism, but is distinct and can be present in the general population, and is characterized by the inability to recognize one’s own, or others’ emotions. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

    According to a Facebook post by a group called Families Against Autistic Shooters, “[Autistic people] are cold, calculating killing machines with no regard to human life.” The group was created in response to the collective hysteria provoked by yet another mass shooting in an American school last October, in this case by a 26-year-old boy who was later reported to be affected by autism. The social stigma towards people with autism remains strong — these individuals are often described as cold, antisocial, and disinterested in others, which only worsens their isolation.

    But is it actually true that a person with autism does not care about the suffering of others? “According to our studies, it is quite the opposite: the autistic trait is associated with a normal empathic concern for others and is actually associated with greater tendency to avoid causing harm to others,” says SISSA researcher, Indrajeet Patil, first author of a recently-published study in Scientific Reports. “The mistaken stereotype is most likely due to another personality construct, which is often found in the autistic population, but can also be found in those who are not afflicted, called alexithymia.”

    Autism is a neuropsychiatric disorder with a wide spectrum shared by individuals with varying degrees of cognitive skills (ranging from people with significant delays to those of above-average intelligence). Diagnostic criteria have changed over the decades (becoming more and more specific). Alexithymia, on the other hand, is a “subclinical” condition (as opposed to a disease), which can be found in the general as well as the autistic population (with an incidence rate of approximately 50% in the latter) and is characterized by an inability to understand one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. “For a long time, the alexithymia trait in patients was confused with autistic symptoms, but today we know that they are distinct,” says Giorgia Silani, former SISSA neuroscientist, now of the University of Vienna, who led the study. “In alexithymia, there is a lack of understanding emotions. In autism, however, we know that what is reduced is the theory of the mind, or the ability to attribute thoughts and mental states to others.”

    Moral Dilemmas

    In the study, Patil, Silani and colleagues subjected people with high-functioning autism (high IQ) to moral dilemmas. A moral dilemma is a hypothetical situation where a decision must be made which could save lives of some individuals by sacrificing others’. In the classic moral dilemma one must decide whether or not to voluntarily take an action that will cause the death of one person, and, in so doing, save a large number of others, or do nothing, which means not killing anyone directly, but resulting in the death of other people. A “purely” rational attitude encourages the voluntary action (utilitarian), but an “empathic” attitude prevents most people from choosing to kill voluntarily.

    The current investigation used advanced statistical modelling techniques to dissociated effect of autistic and alexithymic traits to see how they related to moral judgments. The results revealed that alexithymia is related to utilitarian choices on account of reduced empathic concern, while the autistic trait is linked to opposition to utilitarian choices due to increased personal distress. “Autism is associated with strong emotional stress in response to situations in which the individual tends to avoid performing harmful actions,” says Patil.

    The authors agree that tools for identifying and distinguishing between alexithymia and autistic disorders must be further enhanced. Their work, they add, is only an initial step in trying to define a model that can explain the complex relationship between various mutually-dependent personality traits and points to exciting new avenues for further research.


  7. Spending on public higher education overlooks net benefits as investment in state’s future

    March 14, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign media release:

    school busIn spite of the overwhelming evidence of a skills deficit, a depressed middle class and growing inequality, the state of Illinois continues to underinvest in public higher education. But considering higher education funding as an investment that lowers state welfare and prison costs, generates tax revenues and leads to economic growth in the future — and not as mere consumption spending — could reframe the debate, according to an article by a University of Illinois expert in the economics of education.

    In the face of recent dramatic examples, including the $300 million in cuts to the University of Wisconsin budget and, in Illinois, the failure to fund public universities and MAP grants for 2016 together with the governor’s proposed cuts for 2017, the investment-versus-spending distinction is a vital one, said Walter W. McMahon, an emeritus professor of economics and of educational organization and leadership at the University of Illinois.

    “Since this curtailed investment in human capital would otherwise contribute heavily not only to a state’s economic growth and development but also in ways estimated in the article — to higher state tax revenue and lower Medicaid, child care, welfare and criminal justice system costs — it’s disheartening to see this disinvestment trend by our public officials,” said McMahon, also the author of “Higher Learning, Greater Good: The Private & Social Benefits of Higher Education,” published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Published in the Journal of Education Finance, the article develops the total return of public education relative to the full costs to the state of Illinois, the key criteria for determining whether there is under- or over-investment for the most efficient statewide development.

    McMahon concluded that public education in Illinois contributes to investment returns of 9.5 percent for K-12; 15.3 percent for community college; and 13.4 percent for university, respectively, for every dollar that’s spent — returns that are well above the 7.2 percent the money would have earned if invested in an index fund that tracked returns of the S&P 500, McMahon noted.

    (Updated calculations based on the newest earnings data at each education level, corrected for dropouts and other factors, show returns relative to costs of 12.9 percent at two-year institutions and 12.3 percent at the four-year institutions.)

    “These earnings-based and total social rates of return both show that higher education is economically very efficient — in fact, more efficient than the average corporation in the S&P 500,” McMahon said.

    This measure of efficiency trumps any possible overspending on administrative costs cited by critics, so it’s not surprising that U.S. higher education is widely regarded as the best in the world, according to McMahon.

    The effects are not just on better-paying jobs but are also on many outcomes beyond earnings, from better health and child development to political stability and lower criminal justice costs,” he said. “Furthermore, the returns last for the 65 years or so remaining in the typical graduate’s lifecycle.

    “All told, the state of Illinois’ education investment pays for itself every 2.3 years in state budget savings alone.”

    The return to the state is considerably larger if nonmonetary outcomes are considered.

    “A major opportunity being missed is estimating the effects of higher education on state tax revenues and on budgeted state tax costs for health care, welfare, child support and the criminal justice system,” McMahon said. “Beyond these state budget savings, I also found about a 30 percent total return that includes these wider health and other benefits to statewide development.”

    The paper’s implications for the state’s fiscal health and human capital ought to be of immediate concern to Illinois legislators and policymakers.

    The disconnect with objective benefit-cost analysis suggests the need for a new strategy in making decisions about public education financing,” McMahon said. “Legislators are often focused on infrastructure issues like bridges and roads, to the extent that public education gets short shrift. Nobody likes taxes, which, if the funds are invested in education where there is a future return, are a form of forced saving. But this type of saving and investment has a huge payoff. And if done thoughtfully, it is crucial to the state’s growth, development and fiscal health.”

    Another way of looking at the issue is that “one can also look at the same numbers as estimating the damage to the state from cuts, if they are not restored,” McMahon said.

    “In Illinois, what is happening is not just a disaster for higher education but also a growing disaster for the state budget, as time passes,” he said. “It’s a disaster for economic growth and the business climate, and a disaster for broader development and well-being of the state. Allowing Chicago State to close and not funding MAP grants, which forces students to drop out of school without the necessary skills to succeed in the working world — all of that will have serious implications for the state of Illinois that should be fairly obvious.”


  8. Research pinpoints devastating impacts of fetal alcohol syndrome

    February 29, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Sydney media release:

    pregnancy_boozeChildren with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are affected by a range of problems, including anxiety, depression, aggression, delinquency and diminished learning capacity a new review of evidence reveals.

    Published in the journal Pediatrics, the research is the first to comprehensively describe behaviours in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) observed by teachers and parents using an empirically based assessment system.

    The finding highlights the need for strategies for early intervention, both to help children with self-regulation and to support teachers and caregivers in managing behaviour at school and at home,” said the University of Sydney’s Professor Elizabeth Elliott, a study co-author.

    Researchers noted three main kinds of behavioural problems in children with FASD:

    • Internalizing” behaviours such as, anxiety, withdrawal or depression
    • Externalizing” behaviour, such as aggression, delinquency
    • Other problems, such as problems with social skills, thought processing and attention.

    FASD is the tragic result of alcohol use in pregnancy and is characterised by birth defects and neurodevelopmental problems,” said Professor Elliott. “Worldwide, including in Australia, FASD is increasingly recognised by health professionals, teachers and the criminal justice system as a cause of difficult behaviour, learning problems, and contact with the justice system.”

    “Behaviours seen in FASD impair social interactions, academic performance, and mental health. Without appropriate assessment and treatment, these children experience lifelong difficulties with mental ill health, substance abuse and unemployment and many are unable to live independently.”

    Academics from the Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health at The University of Sydney (Sydney Medical School), undertook an exhaustive review of published literature reporting behaviours in children with FASD and prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE).

    All studies using the Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment (ASEBA): School-Age Forms were included. This widely used and validated assessment tool includes the Child Behaviour Checklist, the Teacher Report Form and the Youth Self-Report form.

    The study’s lead author, Dr Tracey Tsang, said, “Our findings allow us to create a behavioural profile for FASD based on multiple studies from around the world and will inform the assessment and treatment of FASD.”


  9. School shootings and street violence: How they’re alike and different

    February 26, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University media release:

    school_bullyThe two types of youth gun violence couldn’t be more different, but the ways to prevent them remain largely the same, according to a new report by some of America’s top violence researchers.

    School rampage shootings and street shootings by youth differ in dramatic ways: They are done by different types of youth for different reasons, and often have very different risk factors.

    “It is amazing how different school shooters are from street shooters,” said Brad Bushman, the lead author of the report and a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

    “But the basic approach to preventing them is very similar. It starts with making the prevention of youth violence a national priority.”

    Bushman co-authored the new report with 11 other violence experts from universities across the country. They all co-wrote a report for the National Science Foundation on what is known and not known about youth violence.

    This new report, which summarizes and updates the NSF document, appears online in the journal American Psychologist.

    Bushman said that the type of youth who become school shooters are nearly opposite of those who commit street shootings.

    Nearly all school shooters are white, rural or suburban, and middle class. Street shooters are often black, poor, and live in the inner-city.

    Street shooters often have lengthy arrest records and use handguns that they obtained illegally. School shooters usually have multiple weapons, including semi-automatic or automatic rifles, which were purchased legally and often obtained from family members.

    Street shooters don’t want anyone to know what they did — they want to hide,” Bushman said. “Mass shooters want everyone to know.”

    And for mass shooters, their violence is often designed to be the end of the line for them: They often kill themselves, whereas street shooters rarely commit suicide.

    Given all the differences between street shooters and school shooters, it might appear that the causes are completely different. But that’s not true, Bushman said.

    “The causes of gun violence in youth are complex. There are usually multiple factors acting together no matter what kind of shooting is involved,” Bushman said.

    Some factors — like social rejection from peers — seem to be more related to school shooters. Other factors, like poverty, appear to play a larger role in street shootings.

    But many factors, like family influences, personality traits, exposure to media violence, and access to guns play a role in both types of youth gun violence, Bushman said.

    Bushman has extensively studied the role that a steady diet of media violence has on aggression and violence in youth.

    Particularly in school shootings, the role of violent video games is often debated, particularly because so many offenders were shown to be obsessed with “first-person shooter” games, where the player is the killer.

    We can never say that playing violent video games is the one cause of a youth going on a shooting rampage,” Bushman said.

    “But there is a lot of evidence that exposure to media violence increases aggressive behavior. And evidence suggests such exposure may be a contributing factor to violent behavior, even if it isn’t the main factor. The main factor is probably easy access to guns.”

    Because youth violence has so many causes, preventing it also requires a multifaceted approach. Many of the solutions are well-known, if not often implemented, such as strengthening families, minimizing violent media effects, reducing youth access to guns, and improving school climates.

    But Bushman said tools that make it possible to search large quantities of online data have opened new doors for predicting youth violence.

    It is possible to sift through Facebook and Twitter posts to determine if individuals are showing signs of violent behavior,” he said.

    “There are concerns about privacy. We have to make sure that when we do this kind of data mining that we only use data that is publicly available.”

    Bushman said improving school climate may be one of the biggest steps we can take to prevent youth violence.

    Often, taking a high-security approach is not the best option. Metal detectors and security guards can make students feel fearful and mistrustful.

    “You want students to trust parents and teachers and feel like they can talk about possible threats they hear about without ruining someone’s life,” he said.

    Zero-tolerance policies for speech are not helpful. Many kids won’t report threats they hear if they know a fellow student could be expelled for what could be an idle or non-serious comment.”

    Bushman said that both school rampage shootings and everyday street violence need more attention from lawmakers and the public than they currently receive.

    We can’t begin to solve the problem of youth gun violence if we don’t make the issue a major national priority.”


  10. Contact with nature may mean more social cohesion, less crime

    February 24, 2016 by Ashley

    From the American Institute of Biological Sciences media release:

    amish countrysideNumerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of contact with nature for human well-being.

    However, despite strong trends toward greater urbanization and declining green space, little is known about the social consequences of such contact. In the December issue of BioScience, an international, interdisciplinary team reports on how they used nationally representative data from the United Kingdom and stringent model testing to examine the relationships between objective measures and self-reported assessments of contact with nature, community cohesion, and local crime incidence.

    The results in the report, by Netta Weinstein of Cardiff University and others, were notable. After accounting for a range of possibly interfering factors, including socioeconomic deprivation, population density, unemployment rate, socioeconomic standing, and weekly wages, the authors determined that people’s experiences of local nature reported via a survey could explain 8% of a measure of the variation, called variance, in survey responses about perceptions of community cohesion. They describe this as “a striking finding given that individual predictors such as income, gender, age, and education together accounted for only 3%” of the variance.

    The relationship with crime was similarly striking. According to the study results, objective measures of the amount of green space or farmland accessible in people’s neighborhoods accounted for 4% additional variance in crime rates. The authors argue that this predictive power compares favorably with known contributors to crime, such as socioeconomic deprivation, which accounts for 5% variance in crime rates. “The positive impact of local nature on neighbors’ mutual support may discourage crime, even in areas lower in socioeconomic factors,” they write. Further, given the political importance placed on past crime reductions as small as 2%-3%, the authors suggest that findings such as theirs could justify policies aimed at ameliorating crime by improving contact with nature.

    Finally, the authors note that, unlike some easily measured ecosystem services (e.g., the provision of water or food), “the apparent benefits of contact with nature on social cohesion… are more challenging to tease apart and measure.” However, they express the hope that their study “stimulates consideration of how best to ensure that nature, at many different levels, can continue to benefit individuals and society into the future.”