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New IPR Research: December 2019

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Children better learn coding when parents are engaged in task-relevant talk conversation focused on a learning app.”


Below is this month's new research from IPR faculty. 

Social Disparities and Health

How Culture and Identity Affect Risk-Taking Behavior 

Different cultures have different attitudes about risk. In a study for Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, developmental psychologist and IPR associate Yang Qu and his co-authors try to understand how college students’ cultural groups and individual orientation play a role in the neural basis of risk-taking behavior. To do so, they examined a group of nearly 50 students, half from the United States and half from China but studying in the United States, cultures that are respectively more and less inclined toward “risky exploration.” The researchers surveyed the students using the Singelis self-construal scale, measuring their agreement with statements like “I do my own thing, regardless of what others think.” Participants also underwent an MRI while completing a standard psychological test that measures risk-taking. They find that Chinese subjects who identified more strongly with independent orientation showed more activity in their brain’s cognitive control system and affective system, both of which are associated with higher levels of risk-taking. This association varied across two cultural groups, such that self-construals were not related to neural activity and risk-taking behavior in American participants. Their findings reveal that to better understand how individuals acculturate to a new environment, more research is needed on the intersection between group membership and individual orientation, topics that have traditionally been explored independently of each other.

Personality Predicts Holiday Spending 

Personality traits may influence consumers’ buying behavior during the hectic holiday season. In this article, psychologist and IPR associate Daniel Mroczek and his colleagues examine correlations between the “Big Five” personality traits—openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism—and holiday spending behavior. They hypothesize that holiday spending may be a function of socially relevant traits. For example,  more extraverted people spend more during the holiday season. Data were collected by sending a voluntary survey to the users of a UK-based money management application and gathering purchasing data from the 1,875 respondents in November and December. After accounting for financial and demographic differences, the researchers find participants with more nervous, stress-reactive personalities (higher neuroticism), as well as those who were more artistic and imaginative (higher openness), spent less money during the holiday season. The research finds some evidence of a relationship between personality traits and amount of holiday spending, and it adds to our understanding of how certain personality traits may encourage or inhibit consumption. But more work on the topic remains to be done.

Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy 

Local Economic Status as a Predictor of Trump Support

Political pundits have attributed President Donald Trump’s 2016 election in part to his unique appeal to lower-income white voters put off by previous Republican candidates. But in a new study for Electoral Studies, political scientist and IPR associate Thomas Ogorzalek and his co-authors find that when economic status is measured at the local level, as opposed to the national level, relatively wealthy whites were more likely to vote for Trump than their lower-income counterparts. Ogorzalek and his co-authors use data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study and National Annenberg Election Survey dating back to 2000 and cross-referenced it with ZIP code-level income data. They discover that Trump's strongest support was among locally rich white voters, a pattern that holds in four of the past five Presidential elections. Ogorzalek says further research on local economic position is warranted, and that data suggest that the political relevance of factors from employment to education could hinge on local status.

Performance Measurement and Rewards 

Shining a Light on Trafficked and Unidentified Patients by Sharing Data

Medical professionals can be the first people to come in contact with victims of human trafficking; therefore, they can play a key role in intervening if they recognize victims under their care. Human trafficking victims, though, can be challenging to identify, particularly since they often enter medical care with fake names or lacking identification. In a PlosOne study, research assistant professor of pediatrics and IPR associate Sara Katsanis and her colleagues look at how prepared medical personnel are to provide care for this population. To do so, they examined electronic health records and interviewed and surveyed doctors and registered nurses. The researchers revealed that trafficked victims were unnoticed and undocumented in electronic health records at the time of the study. In interviews and a hospital-wide survey, healthcare providers were unware of human trafficking issues and unprepared to provide care or assistance for trafficked and unidentified patients, even though the interviews showed that providers had a strong desire to engage with and support this population. The researchers suggest examining the ethical implications of using biometrics such as palm prints or DNA to a patient’s medical records to help improve trafficking victims’ continuity of care.

Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies 

How Parent-Child Interaction Affects App-based Learning

The use of mobile devices is common among young children today, leading educators and researchers to explore how they might function as learning tools. In a recent study, communication studies researcher and IPR associate Ellen Wartella and co-authors examine parent-child interaction during the use of a touchscreen coding app and whether it affected children’s learning from the app. Focusing on four- to five-year old children, the researchers observed a group of 31 child-and-parent pairs, tracking four different types of communication as the children performed assignments meant to teach coding: spatial talk, or direction-based statements; question-asking; task-relevant talk, or any discussion explicitly relevant to the app; and responsive statements. They compared each factor to the children’s success in completing the task at hand and their comprehension. The authors find that the children better learned coding when parents engaged in more task-relevant talk focused on the app. When conversations featured more question-asking, less learning resulted, which may indicate a child’s having difficulty with the task. Wartella and her co-authors suggest that further research should take a longer view of parent-child interactions to find out whether the effects of such communication, especially question-asking, may change over time.


The Impacts of Car Pollution on Child Health: Evidence from Emissions Cheating

Although car exhaust is a major source of air pollution, shockingly little is known about its impacts on population health, especially amongst American youth. In their new working paper, IPR economist Hannes Schwandt and his associate Diane Alexander at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago analyze the in-depth impacts of car pollution on the youngest members of society. To do this, the researchers examined the dispersion of emissions-cheating diesel cars—which secretly polluted up to 150 times as much as gasoline cars—across the United States from 2008–2015 to measure the health impact of car pollution. By using vehicle registration and birth data, the researchers demonstrate that a 10% cheating-induced increase in car exhaust increases rates of low birth weight by 1.9% and acute asthma attacks among children by 8%. Moreover, they found that these health impacts occur across the entire socioeconomic spectrum, regardless of race or class. The paper has three main takeaways for policymakers. First, car pollution is a society-wide health threat, not just a threat to those in disadvantaged communities. Second, regulators, consumers, and communities need to be informed about the broader health costs of car pollution. And third, strong regulation needs to be paired with strong enforcement in order to fully combat this serious and pressing issue. 

Education Policy

Head Start Plus Public School Spending Equals Reduced Inequality

Children raised in poorer families typically do less well in education, employment, health, and well-being as adults than children who grow up in wealthier ones. Can investing in early childhood education, followed by increased public school spending, mitigate the impact of growing up in lower socioeconomic households? In the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, IPR labor and education economist Kirabo Jackson and his co-author, Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, compare the adult outcomes of children who were exposed, at different points across their childhoods, to changes in Head Start spending and changes in public K–12 school spending brought about by school finance reforms. For poor children, they discover that increases in spending for Head Start and for public K–12 schools each increased educational attainment and earnings and reduced the likelihood of both poverty and incarceration as adults. Benefits were complementary as well: Head Start spending benefits were larger when followed by access to better-funded public K–12 schools, and the increases in K–12 spending were more effective for poor children who were exposed to higher levels of Head Start spending during their preschool years. The researchers suggest that when early education investments are sustained, they may break the cycle of poverty. 

Poverty, Race, and Inequality

Believing in a Positive Future Can Help Resist Stigma

Research has shown how stigmatized people resist negative stereotypes about themselves, but little work has been done to understand how emotions are related. In Deviant Behavior, IPR sociologist Simone Ispa-Landa examines the role emotions play in resisting stigma by focusing on a subset of a larger sample of people with criminal records who participated in an interview study about the collateral consequences of a criminal record history in Illinois between 2012 and 2013. This subset comprised 17 people with felony convictions in Illinois. These individuals had hoped to expunge their criminal records but were denied. Interviewees were angry with the legal system for not giving them a second chance and also because they believed the stigma of a criminal record was unfair. Ispa-Landa explains that displays of anger can be used to challenge stigma. The interviewees were able to interpret their denials for expungement as a result of legal bureaucracy, rather than as a statement of their personal worth or deservingness. All those interviewed but for one were optimistic about their future despite the fact that their records had not been expunged. Ispa-Landa discovers they were able to use anger and optimism to construct positive identities of themselves. She suggests that healthy resistance to stigma for ex-offenders may look like refusing to take “blame for the ways in which past criminal justice contact continues to negatively impact their lives.”

Urban Policy and Community Development 

The Network Structure of Police Misconduct

Interventions for police misconduct often focus on individual officers or top-down management issues within police departments. In a recent study, IPR sociologist Andrew Papachristos, IPR postdoctoral fellow George Wood, and Daria Roithmayr of the University of Southern California, examine the role networks play in police misconduct. Data from 16,503 complaints against 15,811 Chicago police between 2010 and 2016 show that misconduct happens in networks. The majority of officers received relatively few complaints, but a small proportion of officers had a higher number of complaints with a large number of fellow officers who had also received complaints. Seniority, gender, and race were predictors of misconduct: Younger officers were more likely to receive civilian complaints than older ones, men received more complaints than women, and white officers were slightly more likely than black or Hispanic officers to have received at least one complaint. The researchers also find that pairing a more experienced officer with a lesser experienced one led to a lower likelihood of misconduct. The researchers suggest that easy-to-implement policies, such as paying attention to how officers are partnered, might help prevent incidents of police misconduct.

Cultural Archipelagos and Immigrants’ Experiences

“Gayborhoods,” or gay-friendly residential enclaves in major cities such as Chicago’s Boystown or New York City’s Chelsea, have been a feature of urban life for decades. In an article for City & Community, sociology professor and IPR associate Héctor Carrillo responds to the theory that when those neighborhoods decline, they cause the creation of loose “cultural archipelagos,” or new, informal areas where different subgroups of LGBTQ people may cluster in cities. Carrillo critiques this idea by comparing it to the experience of LGBTQ immigrants, who have in the past gathered informally in areas like San Diego’s suburbs and South Bay without the prior existence of such gayborhoods. He writes that treating all such communities as outgrowths of traditional gayborhoods risks overlooking the complex social processes that lead to their formation—processes that can contain useful information about how subcultures manifest and express themselves. Carrillo says that further research about how LGBTQ immigrants related to the idea of an established gayborhood prior to their migration could expand our understanding of how they form and join communities in the United States.

Photos: K.W. Barrett, Flickr;

Published: December 16, 2019.