1. Study suggests willingness to support corporate social responsibility initiatives contingent on perception of boss’ ethics

    November 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Vermont press release:

    A new study shows that people who perceive their employer as committed to environmental and community-based causes will, in turn, engage in green behavior and local volunteerism, with one caveat: their boss must display similarly ethical behavior.

    The forthcoming study in the Journal of Business Ethics by Kenneth De Roeck, assistant professor at the University of Vermont, and Omer Farooq of UAE University, shows that people who work for socially and environmentally responsible companies tend to identify more strongly with their employer, and as a result, increase their engagement in green and socially responsible behaviors like community volunteerism.

    “When you identify with a group, you tend to adopt its values and goals as your own,” says De Roeck. “For example, if you are a fan who identifies with the New England Patriots, their objective to win the Super Bowl becomes your objective too. If they win it, you will say ‘we,’ rather than ‘they,’ won the Super Bowl, because being a fan of the New England Patriots became part of your own identity.”

    That loyalty goes out the window, however, if employees don’t perceive their immediate supervisor as ethical, defined as conduct that shows concern for how their decisions affect others’ well-being. Results show that the propensity for the company’s environmental initiatives to foster employees’ green behaviors disappears if they think their boss has poor ethics. Employees’ engagement in volunteer efforts in support of their company’s community-based initiatives also declines if they believe their boss is not ethical, though not as dramatically.

    “When morally loaded cues stemming from the organization and its leaders are inconsistent, employees become skeptical about the organization’s ethical stance, integrity, and overall character,” says De Roeck. “Consequently, employees refrain from identifying with their employers, and as a result, significantly diminish their engagement in creating social and environmental good.”

    Companies as engines for positive social change

    Findings of the study, based on surveys of 359 employees at 35 companies in the manufacturing industry (consumer goods, automobile, and textile), could provide insight for companies failing to reap the substantial societal benefits of CSR.

    “This isn’t another story about how I can get my employees to work better to increase the bottom line, it’s more about how I can get employees to create social good,” says De Roeck, whose research focuses on the psychological mechanisms explaining employees’ reactions to, and engagement in, CSR. “Moreover, our measure of employees’ volunteer efforts consists of actions that extend well beyond the work environment, showing that organizations can be a strong engine for positive social change by fostering, through the mechanism of identification, a new and more sustainable way of life to their employees.”

    De Roeck says organizations wanting to boost their social performance by encouraging employee engagement in socially responsible behaviors need to ensure that employees perceive their ethical stance and societal engagement as authentic. To do so, and avoid any perception of greenwashing – the promotion of green-based initiatives despite not practicing them fully – organizations should strive to ensure consistency between CSR engagement and leaders’ ethical stance by training supervisors about social and ethical responsibility. Organizations should also be cautious in hiring and promoting individuals to leadership positions who fit with the company CSR strategy and ethical culture.

    “Organizations should not treat CSR as an add-on activity to their traditional business models, but rather as something that should be carefully planned and integrated into the company strategy, culture, and DNA,” says De Roeck. “Only then will employees positively perceive CSR as a strong identity cue that will trigger their identification with the organization and, as a result, foster their engagement in such activities through socially responsible behaviors.”


  2. Study suggests effectiveness of online social networks designed to help smokers quit

    November 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Iowa press release:

    Online social networks designed to help smokers kick the tobacco habit are effective, especially if users are active participants, according to a new study from the University of Iowa and the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit anti-tobacco organization.

    The study examined the tobacco use of more than 2,600 smokers who participated in BecomeAnEX.org, Truth Initiative’s online smoking cessation community designed in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic. The study found that 21 percent of those classified as active users after their first week in the community reported that they quit smoking three months later. Those who were less active in the community were less likely to quit.

    Kang Zhao, assistant professor of management sciences in the UI Tippie College of Business and the study’s co-author, says the results show that online interactions can predict offline behavior.

    How central you become in the online social network after the first week is a good indicator of whether you will quit smoking,” says Zhao. “This is the first study to look at smokers’ behaviors in an online community over time and to report a prospective relationship between social network involvement and quitting smoking.”

    The BecomeAnEX website enables members to share information and support through blogs, forums, and messages. Although the site is focused on smoking cessation, users can post on any topic. More than 800,000 users have registered since the site launched in 2008, resulting in a large, active community of current and former tobacco users supporting each other.

    Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the study constructed a large-scale social network based on users’ posting habits. Zhao says a key finding was that increasing integration into the social network was a significant predictor of subsequent abstinence. Three months after joining the BecomeAnEX social network, users who stayed involved on the site were more likely to have quit smoking when researchers contacted them to assess their smoking status.

    After three months, 21 percent of active users — or those who actively contributed content in the community — quit smoking; 11 percent of passive users — those who only read others’ posts — quit smoking; and only 8 percent of study participants that never visited quit smoking.

    The study did not examine why greater community involvement had such a positive effect on smoking cessation. Researchers speculate it may be because of powerful social network influences.

    “Spending time with others who are actively engaged in quitting smoking in a place where being a nonsmoker is supported and encouraged gives smokers the practical advice and support they need to stay with a difficult behavior change,” says Amanda Graham, senior vice president, Innovations, of Truth Initiative and lead author. “We know that quitting tobacco can be extremely difficult. These results demonstrate what we hear from tobacco users, which is that online social connections and relationships can make a real difference.”


  3. Study suggests public commitment to weight loss goals can help with achieving them

    October 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American University press release:

    About those before and after selfies and public declarations of hitting the gym? New research co-authored by Dr. Sonya A. Grier, professor of marketing in the American University Kogod School of Business, confirms these announcements and progress updates are useful for the achievement of weight and fitness goals. “Weight Loss Through Virtual Support Communities: A Role for Identity-based Motivation in Public Commitment,” published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing, examines the role of virtual communities and public commitment to setting and weight loss goals.

    The study tracks two communities of weight loss groups, surgical and non-surgical over a four-year period. They found that participation and sharing of successes and setbacks in virtual support communities (VSC) is a key part of achieving goals through the public commitment to lose weight.

    “In our investigation of VSCs, we find social identity motivates public commitment in support of goal attainment,” the researchers write.

    Grier says, “The sharing of intimate information and photos about weight loss goals in virtual space is a key factor in motivating behaviors that fulfill that new thinner identity and thus helps people reach their goals.”

    Bloggers like Audrey* shared old photos in search of a “pretty and slim” version of herself.

    “Here is my picture of 28 years ago when I was young, pretty and slim,” Audrey* wrote in a post. “Makes me wanna cry… I can’t get any younger, but I sure can get closer to that weight! Stop crying, start losing weight, girl!”

    Others, like Darlene* shared milestones.

    “I have good news to report. My hard work of eating right and working out has paid off. I am now in ONDERLAND!!!! I weighed in this morning at 196lbs! YES, I did it. I reached my first goal to be under 200lbs and before my cruise on October 16th. I can’t believe I did it! I’m so proud of myself.”

    Ultimately, Grier says, VSCs allow for relative anonymity, accessibility, availability and flexibility in how users represent themselves on their journeys. The process of building community, even in relative anonymity helps with keeping participants motivated and accountable.

    “Not everyone can get the support they need from the people they interact with in person on a daily basis. It is helpful that technology can support community building and goal achievement in virtual spaces.”

    *Names have been changed.


  4. Study suggests that talking about favourite TV shows online may lead to sense of community

    August 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Taylor & Francis press release:

    New research published today identifies how watching fictional television series and participating in online forums that are dedicated to the shows can help female audiences express themselves and feel a sense of belonging to a community.

    According to an article published in the National Communication Association’s Critical Studies in Media Communication, these online communities give women a significant degree of group identification as they self-reflect and swap opinions with others about the storylines of the TV shows.

    Analysis of more than 7,800 comments on social media and other online forums revealed that the women in these digital communities expressed themselves specifically through their emotional ties with a television series, contributing to a sense of belonging based on their mutual enjoyment of the TV shows. Of more than 2,500 fans whose comments were reviewed, 44.6 percent expressed a feeling of belonging.

    As an example, researchers highlighted one fan who commented online, “Now that [TV show] has finished, I’m going to miss the forum. I’ve met such lovely people who episode by episode have forged an everlasting friendship.”

    Lead author Prof Charo Lacalle of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona writes, “This research has helped us to understand in what way domestic fiction communities created on the internet differ from traditional cult fandoms and what type of actions female social spectators carry out to create and maintain a feeling of community. Previous research has been heavily focused on more traditional cult fandom who are typically seen as obsessive fans and geeks. We wanted to understand the more spontaneous fans, and why they choose to take part in such online discussion, and now we understand why that is.”


  5. Better quality relationships associated with reduced dementia risk

    May 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of East Anglia press release:

    Positive social support from adult children is associated with reduced risk of developing dementia, according to a new research published today.

    Conversely, negative social support is linked with increased risk, according to the 10-year follow-up study carried out by a team of researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA), University College London (UCL), London Metropolitan University and the University of Nottingham.

    The study was based on data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and conducted by Dr Mizanur Khondoker at UEA, Professors Andrew Steptoe and Stephen Morris at UCL, Dr Snorri Rafnsson at London Metropolitan and Prof Martin Orrell at Nottingham. The research was part of the Promoting Independence in Dementia (PRIDE) programme and is published today in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

    The researchers analysed a decade of data that followed 10,055 core participants from ELSA who were dementia-free at the start of the study in 2002-2003. Participants were interviewed every two years during 2004-2012 and incidence of dementia was identified from self-reports by participants or information given by nominated informants.

    Measures of positive and negative experiences of social support were calculated at baseline (2002) using a set of six items within the ‘Health and lifestyle of people aged 50 and over’ questionnaire of ELSA. The scale ranged from 1-4 with higher values indicating more of positive or negative support.

    An increase of one point in the positive social support score led to up to a 17 per cent reduction in the instantaneous risk of developing dementia, the findings showed. Positive support was characterised by having a reliable, approachable and understanding relationship with spouses or partners, children and other immediate family.

    But negative support scores showed stronger effects — an increase of one point in the negative support score led to up to 31 per cent rise in the risk. Negative support was characterised by experiences of critical, unreliable and annoying behaviours from spouses or partners, children and other immediate family.

    Of the 5,475 men and 4,580 women the study followed, 3.4 per cent were recorded as developing some form of dementia during 2004 — 2012.

    Dr Mizanur Khondoker, a senior lecturer in medical statistics at UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “It is well known that having a rich network of close relationships, including being married and having adult children, is related to a reduced risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia.

    “However, a relationship or social connection that does not work well can be a source of intense interpersonal stress, which may have a negative impact on both physical and mental health of older adults. It is not only the quantity of social connections, but the quality of those connections may be an important factor affecting older people’s cognitive health.

    “This work is a step toward better understanding of the impact of social relationships on dementia risk, but further research is needed to better establish any potential causal mechanisms that may drive these associations.”

    UCL Prof Andrew Steptoe said: “Our findings add to the growing evidence of the relevance of social relationships for cognitive health in older age. Specifically for health and social care practice, the research highlights the value of thinking about social relationship issues in individuals vulnerable to dementia, while pointing toward specific ways of potentially modifying risk.

    “Our results will add to the impetus underlying local and national efforts to help strengthen the social relationships of older people, many of whom are isolated and lonely.”


  6. Study from past may point to what makes people happy

    May 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) press release:

    A study from the 1930s into what made people happy may have lessons for policymakers today.

    That is the conclusion of research being presented today, Wednesday 3 May 2017, to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Brighton by Sandie McHugh from the University of Bolton.

    In 1938 the Bolton Evening News ran a competition for two guineas for the best letter on “What does happiness mean for you and yours?” The resulting 226 handwritten letters were transcribed by Sandie McHugh and her fellow researchers Julie Prescott, Jerome Carson and Charlotte Mackey to give an insight.

    When they analysed the accounts they found the top three themes to emerge as being connected with happiness were contentment/peace of mind, family and home and other people.

    * “Contentment” and “peace of mind” meant having “enough” rather than seeking wealth.

    * “Family and home” was seen as happy marriages, healthy children and a place for repose.

    * “Other people” meant giving to and helping others less fortunate than themselves.

    Sandie McHugh says, “These shared values helped the community get by before the NHS and the welfare state. Their pleasure time, what we would call leisure, was in the town and in the Lancashire seaside resorts, principally Blackpool. Leisure was often centred in their workplace or the local pub. The people of Bolton were agents and actors in their own leisure activities.”

    “In today’s age of information our lives and leisure are more individualistic and some commentators have suggested that companionship from social media is an illusion and of a more solitary nature. People could ask themselves whether too much of their leisure time is spent on the internet rather than with other people, and is of a passive, rather than an active nature. They should ask what they would most enjoy.”

    “Scientific research shows that enjoyment is important for happiness and wellbeing, keeping active is good for health and helping other people can be beneficial to the giver.”

    The researchers suggest that the lessons from 1938 should be learned by present-day initiatives to enhance wellbeing in towns like Bolton.

    Among the policies they favour are:

    * Wider use of public facilities such as libraries, leisure centres and schools.

    * Expansion of the voluntary sector and higher levels of participation by people as volunteers.

    * More facilities for active leisure.

    Sandie McHugh concluded, “We welcome the move of the Office for National Statistics to measure people’s wellbeing and not just look at economic measures. This helps raise awareness and can be a prompt to action. As the 2017 World Happiness Report suggests, happiness can be considered as a measure of social progress and a goal of public policy.”


  7. Study suggests crowdsourcing creates a ‘win-win situation’

    April 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Concordia University press release:

    From Wikipedia to 99designs, and Google to LEGO, crowdsourcing has changed the way the world does business.

    By partnering with the masses through innovative campaigns, companies can benefit from a vast amount of expertise, enthusiasm and goodwill, rather than from paid labour.

    But what’s in it for the crowd?

    Why do ordinary people sign on to help design or produce a product without much compensation? Why do they volunteer their time and skills to a company that profits? And how can a firm better address the crowd’s needs in order to to maximize value for all involved in the co-creation project?

    Zeynep Arsel, associate professor of marketing at the John Molson School of Business, investigated these questions in a new article published by the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. The article was based on Eric Martineau’s thesis supervised by Arsel at the John Molson School of Business Master of Science Program.

    For the study, Martineau and Arsel looked at two cases: Threadless, a growing company that uses the wisdom of the crowds to produce artistic T-shirts, and a Montreal-based startup that sought to use the same model for fashion accessories.

    The researchers observed participants in the local startup, conducted interviews with community members and carefully monitored online forums to see who was participating and why — as well as what was in it for them.

    Arsel and Martineau then analyzed the similarities and differences between the techniques successfully implemented by Threadless and the startup.

    “Even though the startup ultimately didn’t succeed, our research gave us an invaluable opportunity to understand what works in co-creation projects and what does not,” Arsel says.

    “This allowed us to explain why people participate in co-creation projects and what benefits they receive, other than monetary compensation.”

    Their findings are the first to show that there are four different types of members volunteering in these communities:

    1. Communals build skills and community bonds;

    2. Utilizers join the communities to sharpen their skills without much intention to form social bonds;

    3. Aspirers lack both skills and bonds, but aim to gain more of both;

    4. Tourists are minimally invested in both community and skills and infrequently participate.

    “For some members, the bonds established through these communities matter most. Others simply participate in co-creation projects to sharpen their Photoshop skills or get better at design in general,” Arsel explains.

    She adds that the presence of all four types of members in a collective creativity project is not only essential for the company itself, but also beneficial for other members.

    The researchers found that different kinds of members work together to not only create value for the firm, but also to generate benefits for themselves and other members, such as social connections, status within online communities and improved skills.

    “If companies better understand the value that participants receive and what they get out of this arrangement, they can manage these communities to maximize value for both sides. It’s a win-win situation.”

    Partners in research: This study was funded in part by FQRSC and the Petro Canada Young Innovators Program.


  8. Perceived diversity in neighborhoods is related to more prejudice, study finds

    May 4, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Sheffield media release:

    familyPeople who think they live in diverse neighbourhoods are less likely to be accepting of minority ethnic groups, an international research project by the University of Sheffield has found.

    Dr Aneta Piekut, of Sheffield Methods Institute, and Professor Gill Valentine, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Social Sciences, investigated how attitudes towards minority ethnic groups are related to actual and perceived diversity by conducting a survey of communities in Leeds, UK, and Warsaw, Poland.

    The study, published in European Sociological Review, investigated the relationship between diversity and attitudes at a very local level, asking respondents to assess the level of diversity in their neighbourhood to see how well aligned their perceptions were with reality.

    The survey of 1,036 residents in Leeds and 1,179 in Warsaw found the actual ethnic diversity of a neighbourhood did not have a negative effect on how people felt towards minority ethnic groups. On the contrary, in Leeds people living in areas with a higher share of non-white British residents expressed more favourable attitudes towards immigrants and refugees.

    However, the level of perceived diversity was negatively related to attitudes towards minority ethnic groups. In both Leeds and Warsaw, people perceiving their immediate residential areas as more diverse were more prejudiced.

    In Leeds, the most socially open towards minority ethnic groups were those living in ethnically diverse settings, but who did not perceive their neighbourhoods as diverse. In Warsaw, the results were inconclusive but there was some evidence that the least accepting of ethnic minorities are residents of homogenous neighbourhoods who think they are very diverse.

    Dr Aneta Piekut said: “Actual and perceived diversity work differently. Residents of ethnically mixed neighbourhoods in Leeds, and those having everyday contact with people of minority ethnic background in both cities, are more tolerant towards them. Yet, those ‘seeing’ their neighbourhood as diverse — regardless whether it was actually diverse or not — are more prejudiced.”

    Using data from 2001 and 2011 censuses for neighbourhoods in Leeds, the analysis tested whether the negative relationship between perceived diversity and attitudes is the same across the city, or if it depends on the characteristics of neighbourhoods.

    “Our study demonstrates that diversity perceptions are spatial and temporal — they depend on neighbourhood context and recent changes in the immediate living area,” said Dr Piekut.

    The people most prejudiced towards minority ethnic groups were those expressing high perceived diversity and living in areas with a high recent influx of minorities of ‘white other’ and ‘mixed’ ethnicity, as well as areas with recent deterioration of life conditions in their neighbourhood — for example, an increase in council housing.

    The paper employed quantitative social science methods to talk about sensitive and difficult topics.

    “We wanted to start a discussion on why people see diversity differently,” said Dr Piekut.

    “What are the social and economic factors determining whether we see our surrounding as diverse or not; what is the role of media or the nature of political debates in different European countries in shaping these perceptions?

    The work was part of the project ‘Living with Difference in Europe: making communities out of strangers in an era of super mobility and super diversity’ — a European Research Council Advanced Investigator Award to Professor Gill Valentine (grant no. 249658).

    The study could be replicated in other countries and European cities differing in ethnic diversity experiences. It would increase understanding of how ethnic diversity and immigration are presented in public debates, which can contribute to distorted perceptions of some populations.


  9. Group identifications affect likelihood of teenagers smoking, drinking and taking cannabis

    March 8, 2016 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) media release:

    marijuanaTeenagers who interact positively with their family, school and friends are far less likely to smoke, binge drink and use cannabis than peers who fail to identify with these social groups, according to research from the University of Dundee.

    The research team, led by Psychology PhD student Kirsty Miller, surveyed more than 1000 high school pupils aged 13-17 from the Fife area. The results showed that group identification protects against adverse health behaviour, with levels of identification with family, school and friendship groups predicting the likelihood of teenagers having smoked cigarettes, drank to excess or smoked cannabis in the past month.

    The paper, published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, looks at adolescent substance use from the perspective of social identity. The researchers asked participants to rate the ties they felt to the three groups. The more groups they strongly identified with, the less likely they were to use tobacco, alcohol or cannabis.

    The survey found that 14 per cent of respondents had smoked cigarettes, 31 per cent had binged on alcohol and 7.5 per cent had smoked cannabis in the previous month. The figures decreased from 24.1 per cent (for those who had zero identifications) to 8.8 per cent (for those who had three identifications) for smoking, 41.6 per cent to 25.6 per cent for drinking and 13 per cent to 2.7 per cent for cannabis.

    This follows a previous study published in Psychiatry Research by the same researchers that showed how teenagers who failed to identify with the same social groups were more than four times likely to suffer mental health problems.

    Kirsty Miller said, “This, combined with our previous study, illustrates the importance of teenagers strongly identifying with as many social groups as possible in order to protect against mental health problems and negative health behaviours.

    “The greater the number of social groups the participant strongly identified with, the lower the odds of them participating in negative health behaviours. We found that those who identified with the friend group only had increased odds but identification with the family and school groups as well as friends predicted reduced odds of substance use.

    In contrast, merely having contact with these groups rather than identifying strongly with them increased the odds of participation in these behaviours. This highlights the importance of the subjective aspect of identifying with a group, rather than merely having contact with it.”

    Kirsty and her colleagues’ findings follow on from those of the recently released national report from the Health Behaviour in School-Age Children (HBSC) survey, which also considers social factors in relation to substance use and wellbeing.

    The new report used the same sample group as the previous study on the links between group identifications and mental health. Of those who recorded 0 strong ties, 71 per cent said they had encountered mental ill-health while the figure fell to just 17 per cent for those who strongly identified with their family, school and friendship group. In particular, the team found that identification with their school was the strongest predictor of psychological wellbeing.


  10. Study points to benefits of “doing the right thing”

    June 28, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release via ScienceDaily:

    support_friends_resiliencyCommunities that stick together and do good for others cope better with crises and are happier for it, according to a new study by John Helliwell, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and colleagues.

    Their work suggests that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are more than simply social beings, they are so-called ‘pro-social’ beings. In other words, they get happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others. The paper is published online in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.

    How does the social fabric of a community or nation affect its capacity to deal with crises and to develop resources that maintain and improve people’s happiness during those difficult times? “Communities and nations with better social capital, in other words, quality social networks and social norms as well as high levels of trust, respond to crises and economic transitions more happily and effectively,” Helliwell and his team conclude.

    Their paper begins with an assessment of social capital and happiness during the recent years of economic crisis in 255 US metropolitan areas. Overall, social capital has improved the nation’s happiness during the period of economic crisis, both directly and indirectly by mitigating the impact of rising unemployment.

    Helliwell and colleagues then take a broader perspective by examining national average happiness in OECD countries after the 2008 financial crisis. They group countries according to their levels of happiness:

    · The group with rising happiness includes countries less directly affected by the crisis, with policies well chosen to enhance the well-being of their residents — as in South Korea, for example.

    · The group with falling happiness includes those countries worst hit by the original crisis, and by its subsequent spillovers in the Euro zone. In this group, social capital and other key supports for happiness were damaged during the crisis and its aftermath.

    The study also digs deeper into the relative roles of social capital and income as determinants of happiness. Evidence from countries in economic transition demonstrates the power of social trust, i.e., the belief that generally speaking, most people can be trusted. Social trust is an indicator of the quality of a country’s social capital, which increases happiness directly but also permits a softer landing in the face of external economic shocks..

    The authors wrap up with a look at the power of human nature and the suggestion that the core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans — a view articulated by Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics.