1. Study suggests economic status and reactions to issues may be inferred from position in social networks

    May 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the City College of New York press release:

    New big-data analytics by a City College of New York-led team suggests that both an individual’s economic status and how they are likely to react to issues and policies can be inferred by their position in social networks. The study could be useful in maximizing the effects of large-scale economic stimulus policies.

    A team led by City College physicist Hern´an A. Makse was legally granted access to two massive big datasets: all the phone calls of the entire population of Mexico for three months and the banking information of a subset of people. All the data, approximately 110 million phone calls and 500,000 bank clients, was anonymous with no names.

    “It is commonly believed that patterns of social ties affect individuals’ economic status, said Makse, whose research interest includes the theoretical understanding of complexity. “We analyzed these two large-scale sources — the telecommunications and financial data of a whole country’s population. Our results showed that an individual’s location, measured as the optimal collective influence to the structural integrity of the social network, is highly correlated with personal economic status.”

    The social network patterns of influence observed mimicked the patterns of economic inequality. For pragmatic use and validation, Makse and his colleagues carried out a marketing campaign that showed a three-fold increase in response rate by targeting individuals identified by their social network metrics as compared to random targeting.


  2. Study looks at what air travelers will tolerate for non-discriminatory security screening

    April 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Risk Analysis press release:

    Mounting anti-terrorism security procedures and the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) screening processes have launched numerous debates about the protection of civil liberties and equal treatment of passengers. A new study published in Risk Analysis has successfully quantified how much potential air passengers value equal protection when measured against sacrifices in safety, cost, wait time, and convenience.

    The study, “Valuing equal protection in aviation security screening,” examined how much American travelers valued the principle of equal protection by quantifying the “equity premium.”

    The equity premium included the following components: monetary costs defined as a screening fee that passengers were willing to pay per flight; wait time defined as the length of time in minutes that passengers had to wait to complete security screening; convenience defined as the proportion of passengers without contraband who are mistakenly singled out for further scrutiny; and safety defined as the acceptable percentage of passengers who board with contraband that was not detected during screening (known as the “miss rate”).

    The study is based on the responses of 222 participants in an online survey who were recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk. Each watched a four-minute video that described the study and explained the equity premiums. Respondents were then randomly assigned to one of three possible two-stage screening procedures that evaluated passengers according to a set of behavioral indicators (such as perceived fear or stress), their demographic characteristics (age, race, sex and/or national origin) or at random. Respondents then completed 10 trade-off assessments to determine how much they were willing to sacrifice to avoid differential treatment.

    For all selection procedures, respondents were willing to pay up to $15 and tolerated an increase of up to two additional passengers boarding with contraband to avoid inequitable screenings. When selection procedures focused on demographic characteristics, they were willing to wait an additional 15 minutes. However, respondents who were assigned to procedures that selected passengers at random or according to their behavior were only willing to tolerate an additional five minutes.

    Male and female respondents also responded differently. To avoid a less equitable screening, female participants were willing to wait longer and pay more than male respondents. Females were 2.8 times more likely to wait longer than the minimum wait time and 1.7 times more likely to pay more than the minimum screening fee. However, there were no significant differences in fee or wait time allowances between white and non-white respondents.

    “We know that travelers value both safety and equity, but what we did not know is how they reconcile these conflicting priorities,” said Kenneth Nguyen, corresponding author and quantitative methods graduate student at the University of Southern California. “The value of the current research is to shed light on how travelers make this trade-off and, perhaps more importantly, uncover factors that affect this trade-off, and suggest ways that stakeholders can incorporate these findings in the design of security policies.”

    The overall low numbers suggest that most respondents were only willing to make limited sacrifices for more equitable screening and that they still placed a high value on low costs, shorter wait times, greater safety and convenience. People were willing to give up equal protection for other priorities like minimizing cost and inconvenience and maximizing safety.

    These results offer valuable insights for the TSA and other security officers. Even if screening procedures based on demographic characteristics were more effective than random or behavior-based selections, travelers in this study showed they are much more opposed to these discriminatory procedures by making greater sacrifices in equity premiums when experiencing this type of procedure.


  3. Study suggests ideological information bubbles conquer financial incentives

    April 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Chicago press release:

    A new report from social psychologists at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Winnipeg suggests people on both sides of the political aisle are similarly motivated to dismiss monetary enticements in order to distance themselves from hearing or reading opposing ideals and information.

    The research, published online by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, details the findings from five studies involving liberals and conservatives who were presented with statements on issues such as same-sex marriage, U.S. and Canada elections, marijuana, climate change, guns and abortion.

    Approximately two-thirds of respondents declined a chance to win extra money in order to avoid reading statements that didn’t support their position, say report co-authors Linda Skitka, UIC professor of psychology, and Matt Motyl, UIC assistant professor of psychology.

    The UIC researchers and Jeremy A. Frimer, a corresponding author from the University of Winnipeg, indicate the divide goes beyond political topics.

    Respondents also had a “greater desire to hear from like- versus unlike-minded others on questions such as preferred beverages (Coke vs. Pepsi), seasons (spring vs. autumn), airplane seats (aisle vs. window), and sports leagues (NFL vs. NBA),” they wrote.

    The aversion to hearing or learning about the views of their ideological opponents is not a product of people already being or feeling knowledgeable, or attributable to election fatigue in the case of political issues, according to the researchers.

    “Rather, people on both sides indicated that they anticipated that hearing from the other side would induce cognitive dissonance,” such that would require effort or cause frustration, and “undermine a sense of shared reality with the person expressing disparate views” that would harm relationships, they reported.

    The researchers note the drawback of liberals and conservatives retreating to ideological information bubbles.

    “What could ultimately be a contest of ideas is being replaced by two, non-interacting monopolies,” they said.


  4. For a modest personality trait, ‘intellectual humility’ packs a punch

    April 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Duke University press release:

    Intellectual humility” has been something of a wallflower among personality traits, receiving far less scholarly attention than such brash qualities as egotism or hostility. Yet this little-studied characteristic may influence people’s decision-making abilities in politics, health and other arenas, says new research from Duke University.

    In a time of high partisanship, intellectual humility — an awareness that one’s beliefs may be wrong — is nonpartisan. Researchers measured levels of the trait, and found essentially no difference between liberals and conservatives or between religious and nonreligious people.

    “There are stereotypes about conservatives and religiously conservative people being less intellectually humble about their beliefs,” said lead author Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. “We didn’t find a shred of evidence to support that.”

    As defined by the authors, intellectual humility is the opposite of intellectual arrogance or conceit. In common parlance, it resembles open-mindedness. Intellectually humble people can have strong beliefs, but recognize their fallibility and are willing to be proven wrong on matters large and small, Leary said.

    The researchers, whose work is featured in the March 15 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, conducted four separate studies to measure the trait and learn more about how it functions. In one study, participants read essays arguing for and against religion, and were then asked about each author’s personality. After reading an essay with which they disagreed, intellectually arrogant people gave the writer low scores in morality, honesty, competence and warmth. By contrast, intellectually humble people were less likely to judge a writer’s character based on his or her views.

    People who displayed intellectual humility also did a better job evaluating the quality of evidence — even in mundane matters. For instance, when presented with arguments about the benefits of flossing, intellectually humble people correctly distinguished strong, fact-based arguments from weak ones.

    The characteristic also affected people’s views on politicians who “flip-flop.” Intellectually humble Republicans were more likely than other Republicans to say that they would vote for a politician whose position on an issue changed over time, due to new evidence. They were also less likely to criticize that politician for “flip-flopping.” There was less variability among Democrats: Democrats, whether intellectually arrogant or humble, were generally less likely to criticize a politician for changing his mind.

    Leary said intellectual humility bears further examination.

    “If you think about what’s been wrong in Washington for a long time, it’s a whole lot of people who are very intellectually arrogant about the positions they have, on both sides of the aisle,” Leary said. “But even in interpersonal relationships, the minor squabbles we have with our friends, lovers and coworkers are often about relatively trivial things where we are convinced that our view of the world is correct and their view is wrong.”

    The quality has potential benefits in the business world, too, he said.

    “If you’re sitting around a table at a meeting and the boss is very low in intellectual humility, he or she isn’t going to listen to other people’s suggestions,” Leary said. “Yet we know that good leadership requires broadness of perspective and taking as many perspectives into account as possible.”

    Leary and his co-authors suggest that intellectual humility is a quality that could be encouraged and taught. And some of their colleagues hope to do just that. Leary’s team worked in collaboration with other psychologists and philosophers to refine their studies. One of those philosophers helped launch a charter school in California, the Intellectual Virtues Academy of Long Beach, aimed at promoting qualities such as intellectual humility.

    Leary applauds the effort.

    “Not being afraid of being wrong — that’s a value, and I think it is a value we could promote,” he said. “I think if everyone was a bit more intellectually humble we’d all get along better, we’d be less frustrated with each other.”


  5. 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.”


  6. 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.


  7. 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.”


  8. 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.


  9. 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.


  10. 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.”