1. Behavioral ‘nudges’ offer a cost-effective policy tool

    June 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Governments around the world have increasingly turned to behavioral science to help address various policy problems — new research shows that some of the best-known strategies derived from behavioral science, commonly referred to as ‘nudges,’ may be extremely cost effective. The new study, which examined the cost-effectiveness of nudges and typical intervention strategies like financial incentives side-by-side, found that nudges often yield particularly high returns at a low cost when it comes to boosting retirement savings, college enrollment, energy conservation, and vaccination rates.

    The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “The changes in behavior produced by nudges tend be quite cost effective relative to those produced by traditional policy tools — so there is a big opportunity to use nudging more widely in government in conjunction with traditional policy tools,” says Professor Katherine L. Milkman of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the authors of the new study.

    “Our findings show that it’s important to calculate and report the cost effectiveness of available policy tools, and not simply the impact of an intervention without an adjustment for cost,” adds study co-author Professor John Beshears of Harvard Business School. “This will facilitate wiser decisions by governments and other organizations regarding which policy tools to use under various circumstances.”

    Nudges — which are now being tested and implemented by government agencies in the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the United States — diverge from traditional policy tools in that they encourage certain behaviors without restricting an individual’s options or exacting financial penalties.

    When organizations automatically enroll employees in their company’s retirement savings program but allow them to opt out, for example, they are using a nudge that takes advantage of the fact that people tend to accept the default while still protecting employees’ freedom to choose whether to participate in the program.

    Although many nudges have been proven to increase individuals’ access to various services and programs, they may not produce large shifts in overall behavior. As such, they may be overlooked as useful policy tools despite their relatively low cost.

    With this in mind, a research team including academics and practitioners inside and outside of government examined existing studies to evaluate the relative cost effectiveness of nudges and other policy interventions.

    Looking at the 2015 reports from the SBST and the UK Behavioural Insights Team, the researchers developed a list of relevant policy areas and identified one behavior as the outcome of interest within each area. They then searched leading academic journals in science, economics, psychology, and medicine for original research published from 2000 to mid-2015 that directly examined interventions targeting these outcomes.

    The team compared the effectiveness of nudge-type strategies with more standard policy interventions, calculating the ratio between an intervention’s causal effect and its implementation cost.

    The results showed a pattern: In each of the domains that the researchers examined, nudges were highly cost effective, often more so than the traditional policy interventions.

    In the case of retirement savings, for example, a nudge that prompted new employees to indicate their preferred contribution rate to a workplace retirement-savings plan yielded a $100 increase in employee contributions per $1 spent on implementing the program; the next most cost-effective strategy, offering monetary incentives for employees who attended a benefits fair, yielded only a $14.58 increase in employee contributions per $1 spent on the program.

    Similarly, a nudge-based mailing that prompted employees to write down when and how they planned on getting their flu shot led to about 13 additional people getting vaccinated per $100 spent on the mailing; by contrast, an education campaign on the benefits of the flu vaccine led to only about 9 additional employees at a health care facility getting vaccinated per every $100 spent on the campaign.

    “We had a hunch that nudging, and especially digital nudging, would be very cost effective, but I was truly surprised to see that the cost effectiveness of nudging is often 100, and even 1,000, times greater than more traditional interventions,” says co-author Shlomo Benartzi, a professor at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. “This has huge implications for governments and businesses alike.”

    The researchers acknowledge that their analyses do not offer an exhaustive review of the comparative effectiveness of nudges and traditional policy tools. And there are many cases in which traditional tools — such as prohibitions and mandates — are essential for achieving specific policy objectives, and nudges might not be of value.

    But the new findings clearly show that nudge-type strategies based in behavioral science do offer a useful, low-cost approach to promoting behaviors tied to a variety of important outcomes. Unlike traditional interventions that are designed to influence the cost-benefit calculations that people make, nudges harness decision-making processes that operate automatically. Thus, nudges may be especially useful in guiding behavior when people are making decisions in less than ideal circumstances, such as when they are busy, tired, or otherwise not able to fully engage with the choices available to them.

    The findings also underscore how critical sharing data and knowledge about the effectiveness of various interventions will be to coordinated policy efforts among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

    “Tracking failures is as important for knowledge creation as tracking successes,” the researchers conclude.


  2. Why do we follow unspoken group rules?

    June 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) press release:

    How you dress, talk, eat and even what you allow yourself to feel — these often unspoken rules of a group are social norms, and many are internalized to such a degree that you probably don’t even notice them. Following norms, however, can sometimes be costly for individuals if norms require sacrifice for the good of the group. How and why did humans evolve to follow such norms in the first place?

    A new study from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis explores this question, shedding light on the origins of human cooperation.

    The results, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the ability of humans to internalize social norms is expected to evolve under a wide range of conditions, helping to forge a kind of cooperation that becomes instinctive.

    The researchers used computer simulations to model both individual behavior in joint group actions and underlying genetic machinery controlling behavior. The researchers worked from the premise that adherence to norms is socially reinforced by the approval of, and rewards to, individuals who follow them and by punishment of norm violators. The researchers’ goal was to see whether certain norms get internalized, meaning that acting according to a norm becomes an end in itself, rather than a tool to get something or to avoid social sanctions.

    In the model, individuals make choices about participating in collective actions that require cooperation, and individuals who don’t cooperate, or “free riders,” can face consequences.

    Specifically, the authors looked at two general kinds of collective actions requiring cooperation that our ancestors might have regularly faced. The first type of group action involves “us-vs.-nature” scenarios, where groups must defend against predators and hunt and breed cooperatively. The second type of group action is “us-vs.-them,” which constitutes direct conflicts or other costly competition with other groups over territory, mating, access to trade routes, and the like.

    The model found that norm internalization readily evolves in both scenarios.

    The model also shows that encouraging peer punishment of free-riders is much more efficient in promulgating cooperation in collective actions than promoting participation itself.

    The study predicts a significant genetic variation in the ability of humans to internalize norms. In particular, under some conditions populations are expected to have a relatively small frequency of “over-socialized” individuals who are willing to make extreme sacrifices for their groups. Examples in today’s society might be suicide bombers and other displays of extreme self-sacrificial behavior for the good of the group. Likewise, there are also “under-socialized” individuals — psychopaths — who are completely immune to any social norms.

    As social and physical environments vary greatly between different human groups, the model accounts for this variation and can predict how these differences will affect human social behavior and human decision-making in different regions.

    In addition to answering theoretical questions about the origins of human cooperation, the study may have a variety of practical applications.

    “Every day human beings make choices among multiple options in how to respond to various social situations. Those choices are affected by many interacting factors, including social norms and values. Understanding the effects of social norms could help us better understand human decision-making and better predict human actions in response to certain events or policies,” said lead author Sergey Gavrilets, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and mathematics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and NIMBioS associate director for scientific activities.

    Gavrilets also said the models could be helpful in social and economic policymaking.

    “Changing social institutions is a common strategy for changing human behavior,” he said. “Sometimes there are attempts to borrow or transfer institutions from one country or region to another. Often such strategies fail miserably, however. Our models can help explain why. Generalizing our models can lead to the development of better tools for predicting consequences of introducing certain social policies and institutions and in identifying the most efficient strategies for changing or optimizing group behaviors.”


  3. 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.


  4. 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.”


  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.