1. Group tolerance linked to perceptions of fairness and harm

    March 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University press release:

    Look for the fault line in any modern conflict and it likely follows a familiar division between the opposing groups. Whether that divide is sectarian, ethnic or ideological, people’s devotion to the values that define their communities can make it seem as if violence along their boundaries is inevitable.

    But a new study of groups in tension or conflict found evidence that people are willing to share a society with those of differing beliefs as long as they believe that those groups share a commitment to universal moral values such as fairness and harm.

    Published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Carnegie Mellon University’s Nichole Argo and The New School for Social Research’s Nadine Obeid and Jeremy Ginges interviewed hundreds of members of sectarian groups in Lebanon, ethnic groups in Morocco and ideological factions in the United States. Their findings undermine political claims that conflicts arise because of differences in what they call “binding” values, such as beliefs about God, purity or deference to authority. Members of groups may believe in these things, but they don’t necessarily expect others to share those beliefs.

    “In essence, I can eat dinner with, date, marry or live close to you even if you don’t believe in the same God or eat the same foods. But I will distance myself from you and your group in these ways if I perceive that you don’t play fair or that you don’t care about others,” said Argo, a research scientist in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at CMU with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences.

    In Lebanon, the authors asked 376 undergraduates from the Lebanese American University — a mix of Christian, Sunni and Shiite students from middle-class backgrounds — how comfortable they’d be living near and socializing with members of the other sectarian groups. The answer, they found, depended on how much the individual thought the other group prioritized universal “autonomy” values such as harm and fairness. The same was true in Morocco, where they hired local researchers to survey 100 Arabs and Berbers in six districts around Greater Casablanca.

    The authors then asked if a desire to change intergroup relations would motivate increased perceptions of moral difference between groups. If so, would this occur primarily on the basis of universal values of fairness and harm?

    To find out, they interviewed 362 New Yorkers about abortion and same-sex marriage. They found that for participants who espoused either the liberal or the conservative view, thinking about an issue around which they desired a change in the status quo led to a perception of greater distance between self and other in autonomy values, but not binding ones.

    In other words, on issues where participants wanted a status change in an issue that currently favored the other group, they perceived greater differences in autonomy values.

    “This study provides insights about others, but also ourselves,” Argo said. “Do we really distance ourselves from others because of the religious garb they wear, or what they eat? No. We distance ourselves when we don’t trust them to treat us well. Given this, it becomes essential to care about how others perceive our own group’s behavior.”

    She added, “Since people do not usually hate because of differences in ways of life, they may be thinking that our actions disregard them, or worse, constitute attacks against them. Sometimes those perceptions can be prevented or corrected. It’s the golden rule: how we treat others matters.”


  2. 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.


  3. Employers need to do more to encourage staff to switch off at home

    January 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) media release:

    Computer UserLess than half of UK businesses and organisations provide employees with guidance on how to switch off from work when they go home.

    This is one of the findings from a survey conducted by Dr. Almuth McDowall (Birkbeck, University of London) and Professor Gail Kinman (University of Bedfordshire) who will present their results today, Friday 6 January 2017, at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference being held in Liverpool.

    Dr Gail Kinman said: “From January 1st, French workers have the right to disconnect from email to avoid the intrusion of work into their private lives and protect them against burnout. We wanted to know what are UK organisations doing to protect employees against the risks of being always on?”

    Over 370 UK organisations across a range of sectors took part in the survey. Findings revealed that less than 50 per cent of organisations surveyed provided their employees with guidance on how to switch off. Surprisingly, more than half also had no formal policies in place to help their employees balance work demands with personal life in general.

    While some respondents acknowledged that using devices such as smartphones could improve communication at work and boost productivity (24 per cent), the negative effects of technology on relationships at work (21 per cent) and wellbeing (27 per cent)) were also highlighted.

    Dr Gail Kinman commented: “Our findings clearly show that organisations are not helping their staff accommodate to the changing world of work which is likely to have a negative impact on their wellbeing, their work-life balance and their effectiveness. Many individuals we surveyed clearly feel under great pressure not to switch off, leading to intense pressure, poorer performance and worry about what the immediate future holds.

    “It’s time to take a more proactive approach to helping employees and organisations become more ‘e-resilient’ and to manage technology in a more healthy and sustainable way.”


  4. 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.


  5. School principals shape students’ values via school climate

    October 26, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science media release:

    principal_with_booksOver time, students’ personal values become more similar to those of their school principal, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Associational for Psychological Science.

    The findings indicate that principals’ values are linked with aspects of school climate which are, in turn, linked with students’ own values.

    “Given the vast amount of time children spend in school, it is important to assess the impact that schools have on children, beyond their impact on children’s academic skills,” say researchers Yair Berson (New York University and Bar-Ilan University) and Shaul Oreg (Cornell University and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem). “Our findings show that schools contribute to the formation of children’s values.

    Although there is a wealth of data showing relationships between aspects of the school environment and students’ academic achievement, relatively little is known about the effects of school climate on non-academic outcomes. Based on previous research investigating leaders’ influence on organizational culture and employees’ values, Berson and Oreg hypothesized that school principals might similarly influence school climate and students’ values over time.

    The researchers collected data from 252 school principals, over 3600 teachers, and almost 50,000 students in public elementary and secondary schools in Israel.

    Focusing on four well-established categories of values — self-enhancement, self-transcendence, openness to change, and conservation — school principals filled out a questionnaire in which they read statements about a hypothetical individual and rated how closely they aligned with their own values.

    Self-enhancement values were captured in achievement-focused statements (e.g., “Being successful is important to him”), whereas self-transcendence values were depicted in statements highlighting benevolence (e.g., “She goes out of her way to be a dependable and trustworthy friend.”). Values indicating openness to change were conveyed in statements related to preference for stimulation and self-direction (e.g., “She thinks it is important to have all sorts of new experiences,” “Being creative is important to him”). Conservation-related values were demonstrated in statements that covered conformity, tradition, and security (e.g., “It is important to him to follow the rules even when no one is watching,” “It is important to her to maintain traditional values and beliefs,” “Having order and stability in society is important to her”).

    At the same time, students completed age-appropriate measures that tapped into the same values. The students completed values measures again two years later.

    Teachers completed a survey measure focused on aspects of school climate that corresponded with the four values, including the degree to which school climate reflects an emphasis on stability (conservation values), support (self-transcendence values), innovation (openness-to-change values), and performance (self-enhancement values).

    Teachers also rated the degree to which students in their homeroom displayed various behaviors that reflected the same values.

    The researchers found that students’ values became more similar to those of their principal over the two-year study period.

    Principals’ personal outlook on life is reflected in the overall school atmosphere, which over time becomes reflected in schoolchildren’s personal outlook and eventual behavior,” Berson and Oreg explain in their paper.

    This pattern was consistent for all of the values except for one: conservation values.

    “Values that have to do with maintaining the status quo — emphasizing tradition, conformity and security — showed a different pattern, whereby principals’ values are associated with children’s values, but without the mediating role of the school climate,” say Berson and Oreg.

    The researchers speculate that unstudied mechanisms — such as principals’ selection of teachers — might explain this exception.

    Ultimately, determining whether principals’ influence on students’ values is good or bad will be up to the individual observer.

    “But the existence of these effects should alert principals to the substantial impact they have on children’s socialization to society,” the researchers write.


  6. Study supports do not sell voluntary waiting period for gun sales to reduce suicide

    October 11, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Alabama at Birmingham media release:

    Depressed seniorA new study suggests many patients at risk for suicide would voluntarily place their name on a Do Not Sell list, prohibiting gun shops from immediately selling them a firearm.

    The study, published in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, says nearly half of the 200 people surveyed would willingly place their name on such a list.

    “There is evidence that suicide, in particular suicide-by-gun, is often impulsive — that once an individual decides to take their own life they are, in many cases, able to quickly obtain a firearm and use it,” said lead author Fredrick Vars, J.D., a professor in the School of Law at the University of Alabama. “The concept of a Do Not Sell list, similar to the national Do Not Call list, would be to eliminate such impulsive transactions. Restricting access to firearms, even temporarily, could save many lives.”

    The authors report that previous studies of survivors of firearm suicide attempts found a majority had suicidal thoughts for less than a day, while another found that, of nearly lethal suicide attempts among people 13-34 years of age, about one-fourth of attempters spent less than five minutes between the decision to attempt suicide and the actual attempt.

    Vars conducted the survey with investigators in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine.

    “People with mental illness are more likely to commit suicide,” said Richard Shelton, M.D., vice chair of Research for the UAB Department of Psychiatry and a study co-author. “Studies indicate the vast majority of suicide attempt survivors end up eventually dying of something other than suicide, so a means of preventing someone from making future gun purchases during a suicidal crisis might reduce suicide rates.”

    The researchers surveyed 200 patients at an inpatient psychiatric unit and two outpatient psychiatry clinics at UAB. The most commonly reported conditions of those surveyed were mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders or substance abuse.

    The survey presented two options to study participants. In the first, respondents would voluntarily place their name on the Do Not Sell list, which would feature a seven-day waiting period following a request for removal from the list to avoid an impulse buy. The second option would require a judicial hearing to remove a name from the list and allow a gun sale. A total of 46 percent of respondents indicated willingness to participate in one of the two methods, with a slight preference for the seven-day waiting period.

    “Nearly one-half of participants indicated they would like to be able to restrict their own future gun purchases,” Vars said. “This approach wouldn’t stop all suicides, but any dent we could make in the estimated 20,000 people who use a gun to commit suicide every year in the United States would be significant.

    “Waiting periods to purchase firearms have been shown to reduce gun suicide, most likely due to the impulsive nature of suicide attempts,” said Karen L. Cropsey, Psy.D., associate professor of psychiatry at UAB and a study co-author. “The Do Not Sell list is a new type of means restriction, and means restriction generally has been shown to be one of the most effective suicide prevention strategies.”

    Cropsey says a Do Not Sell list would be a natural extension of current counseling practice.

    “We regularly have conversations with patients who are having or have had suicidal thoughts about removing access to firearms in the home,” she said. “Taking a gun out of the home or, as in this case, creating a delay period that removes the ability to impulsively purchase a firearm are good strategies for suicide prevention.”

    Vars, who has studied mental health and gun ownership for years, believes the concept of the Do Not Sell list is unique but could be implemented fairly easily.

    A waiting period — say seven, 10 or perhaps 15 days — would be fairly easy to establish and would involve primarily one-time set up costs rather than an ongoing expense,” Vars said. “The judicial review option would be more expensive. The largest hurdle would be in educating health care providers and the public that an option such as a Do Not Sell list exists.”

    Vars would like to see the survey administered in other regions of the country to see if the results are similar.

    “Alabama has a high rate of gun ownership and a strong consensus against gun regulation,” Vars said. “Sign-up rates could be different and possibly higher in regions with lower gun ownership rates.”


  7. 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.”


  8. Summer learning programs can benefit low-income students, study finds

    September 8, 2016 by Ashley

    From the RAND Corporation media release:

    school lunch canstockphoto1903272Elementary school students with high levels of attendance in voluntary summer learning programs — defined as at least 20 days of a five- to six-week program — experienced benefits in math and reading, according to new RAND Corporation findings from the largest research study ever conducted on summer learning.

    The $50 million National Summer Learning Project, funded by The Wallace Foundation since 2011, seeks to find out whether and how voluntary summer programs can help low-income students succeed in school. Summer is a time when low-income students lose ground relative to their wealthier peers, but it also holds promise as a time to improve outcomes for them by providing additional opportunities for academics and enrichment.

    Until this study, little research had been conducted about the effectiveness of voluntary summer learning programs led by urban districts and offered to large numbers of low-income students.

    The five school districts in the project are Boston, Dallas, Duval County, Florida, Pittsburgh and Rochester, New York. Each offered five to six weeks of free summer programs that included enrichment activities and instruction in mathematics and English language arts.

    The new results are on the impact of programs during summers in 2013 and 2014. School-year outcomes measured included grades, achievement test scores in math and language arts, measures of social and emotional skills, and school-year attendance and suspension rates. The project will track student outcomes through spring 2017.

    RAND researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial, comparing the results for students who participated in the program with results for students who did not. Researchers also compared specific groups of students — such as high attenders with at least 20 days of attendance — to the control group. The analysis summarizes the outcomes for 3,192 students accepted into the programs who had completed third grade before the first summer.

    After the first summer, students who attended at least 20 days outperformed the control group in math, and the improvements persisted through the school year. After the second summer, these high attenders outperformed the control group of students in math and reading, both in fall 2014 and in the following spring. These findings are correlational, but are controlled for prior achievement and demographics, giving researchers confidence that the benefits are likely due to the programs and meeting the requirements for promising evidence under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

    The academic advantage for the students with high attendance levels after the second summer translates to between 20 and 25 percent of the typical annual gains in mathematics and reading, the study found.

    High-attending students also were rated by teachers as having stronger social and emotional competencies than the control group students. However, researchers have less confidence that this was caused by the programs, given the lack of prior data on these competencies.

    Among the students who attended for at least one day each summer, 60 percent reached the 20-day threshold associated with benefits. Average daily attendance was 76 percent, lower than the typical 96 percent during the school year.

    “Our study clearly shows the benefits for the students who had high attendance rates or high amounts of academic instruction in the summer learning programs,” said Catherine H. Augustine, the study’s lead author and senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “To help as many students as possible reap these benefits, the study suggests that districts run summer programs for at least five weeks, include sufficient time on academics, and focus on the challenge of achieving high attendance rates.”

    “Until now, we didn’t know if urban school districts could offer high-quality summer learning programs for low-income students and whether they would make a difference for children,” said Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation. “We have learned two important things: That high-quality summer learning programs are capable of helping disadvantaged students succeed in school, and that high attendance is crucial to delivering these benefits.”

    Because nearly 80 percent of students with high levels of attendance in 2014 also were high attenders in 2013, it is not clear whether the broader positive outcomes for high attenders after the second summer are the result of cumulative attendance over both summers or program improvements in the second summer, and researchers concluded outcomes likely reflected a combination of both.

    The school districts took different approaches to their summer programs, but all provided at least three hours daily of academic instruction in math and reading by certified teachers, along with enrichment activities such as art, music, tennis and swimming.

    For students to experience lasting benefits from attending summer programs, the report recommends that districts run programs for at least five weeks, promote consistent attendance, include sufficient instructional time and protect it, invest in instructional quality, and factor in attendance and likely no-show rates when staffing the programs in order to lower per-student costs.

    The report, “Learning from Summer: Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Urban Youth,” along with accompanying research brief and infographic, is available at http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1557.html


  9. Drug-overdose deaths hold steady in some high drug trafficking areas

    April 25, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences media release:

    addiction_drugsAreas in the U.S. with the highest drug-overdose death rates are not always places with high drug trafficking, according to a new University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health analysis published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

    Drug-overdose mortality rates have increased an average of 6.7 percent per year since 1979 but held relatively steady in most U.S. border counties, indicating that drugs appear to pass through these counties without affecting the death rates of their residents.

    “Our research reveals several potential new drug overdose problem regions that warrant careful attention as they may not correspond to areas covered by federal resources to combat drug trafficking,” said lead author Jeanine Buchanich, Ph.D., deputy director of Pitt Public Health’s Center for Occupational Biostatistics and Epidemiology. “Western Pennsylvania is one such area that is not considered to have high drug trafficking, but yet has one of the fastest growing drug overdose rates nationwide.

    Using the Mortality and Population Data System, a unique repository and retrieval system for detailed death data from the National Center for Health Statistics, housed at Pitt Public Health, Dr. Buchanich and her team examined overdose deaths in the U.S. from 1979 to 2014. The team started with 1979 because changes in reporting cause of death make it impossible to make comparisons with previous years. 2014 is the most recent year for which data are available.

    The counties with the largest increases in overdose death rates were clustered in southern Michigan; eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania; eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and much of southeastern New York; and coastal New England.

    Counties in the Midwest, California and Texas have seen little to no increase in overdose death rates.

    The mortality data was cross-referenced with counties in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, which was created by Congress in 1988 to provide 31 high drug-trafficking areas of the U.S. with coordinated law enforcement resources dedicated to reducing trafficking and production.

    High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas with high overdose death rates were mostly concentrated in Appalachia and the Southwest U.S., whereas such areas with lower death rates were near the borders in California, Texas and southern Florida.

    “While resources are justifiably being targeted to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, they must also be allocated to counties outside those areas with rapidly increasing and currently high drug overdose rates,” said Dr. Buchanich, also a research assistant professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Biostatistics.

    Pitt Public Health’s Mortality and Population Data System also unveiled several demographic insights that could be used to guide prevention and drug intervention efforts, including that:

    • Since 1979, death rates increased for all age groups, with the smallest rate of growth in those older than 65 and the largest in 45 to 54 year olds.
    • In 1979, overdose deaths occurred most frequently among 25 to 34 year olds and blacks; in 2014, rates were highest among 45 to 54 year olds and whites.
    • Mortality rates were slightly higher in urban counties than rural counties.
    • Deaths due to overdose in women began increasing in the mid-1990s and increased dramatically in 2002; for men, the rates began climbing in the mid-1980s with a more rapid increase also beginning in 2002.

    Dr. Buchanich will continue to build on her drug overdose research with funding from the Pitt Public Health opioid pilot grant program. These one-year pilot grant projects explore different areas of the opioid overdose epidemic with the goal of providing research-based information to guide public health interventions.


  10. New research: Nine laws particularly effective in reducing underage drinking fatalities

    April 14, 2016 by Ashley

    From the NORC at the University of Chicago media release:

    alcohol bottlesNew research reveals that nine laws designed to reduce underage drinking have been instrumental in saving more than 1,100 lives each year in the states that have adopted them, and that an additional 210 lives could be saved annually if they were adopted in every state.

    While all 50 states have adopted a core minimum legal drinking age of 21, a large number of states have adopted expanded underage drinking laws. Those additional laws were the focus of research done by a team at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) in Calverton, Maryland, and which will be published in the March 2016 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

    Of the 20 expanded underage drinking laws that were identified, nine were found to be particularly effective in reducing the number of fatal crashes involving underage drinking drivers.

    The authors examined each law’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of coverage, sanctions for violations, exceptions, and ease of enforcement. Results showed wide variability in the strength of each underage drinking law and in the number of states that have adopted them. “We were surprised to find that half of the states have adopted 13 or fewer laws, that only five can be found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and that just one state, Utah, has adopted all 20,” said lead author James Fell, now a principal research scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago. Fell said their particular interest was in the nine laws that made a significant difference in the number of fatal crashes.

    The nine minimum legal drinking age laws associated with significant decreases in fatal crash ratios of underage drinking drivers were: possession of alcohol (-7.7%), purchase of alcohol (-4.2%), use alcohol and lose your license ( 7.9%), zero tolerance .02 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for underage drivers (-2.9%), age of bartender ?21 ( 4.1%), state responsible beverage service program (-3.8%), fake identification support provisions for retailers (-11.9%), dram shop liability (-2.5%), and social host civil liability ( 1.7%).

    The nine laws are estimated to be currently saving approximately 1,135 lives annually. The researchers estimate that if all states adopted them, an additional 210 lives could be saved each year.