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New IPR Research: June 2023

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This month’s new research covers studies examining how water insecurity relates to food insecurity, the connection between low socioeconomic status and responses to immediate rewards, and whether playing video games can help develop cognitive abilities. It also investigates the distribution preferences among Americans between 2013–16, how long COVID impacts employment, and how knowledge about people's interracial friendships influences how they are viewed. 

Social Disparities and Health

​​The Concurrence of Water and Food Insecurity in 25 Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Mounting evidence shows that the lack of stable access to food is directly affected by a lack of clean and safe water. In the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, IPR anthropologist Sera Young and her colleagues investigate how water access, use, and stability relate to food insecurity in 25 low- and middle-income countries. The researchers use data from the 2020 World Gallup Poll, which administered the Individual Water Insecurity Experiences Scale and the Food Insecurity Experience Scale to 31,755 respondents. These respondents live in 25 low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and they made up nationally representative samples of each country. The surveys asked questions such as how often the individuals experienced life-disrupting water-related problems or didn’t have enough to eat from the lack of resources in the previous 12 months. The researchers find that among the 18.3% of respondents who experienced water insecurity, 66.8% also experienced food insecurity. Overall, 12.8% of respondents experience water and food insecurity at the same time. The results show that the likelihood of experiencing moderate-to-severe food insecurity was higher among respondents who also experienced water insecurity. Future research should explore the ways water insecurity affects food insecurity and nutritional intake as well as how food insecurity may play a role in exacerbating water insecurity.

Low Socioeconomic Status and Responses to Rewards and Losses

In trying to understand the long-term consequences of poverty, researchers have hypothesized that economic scarcity may lead people to seek immediate rewards at the expense of pursuing long-term goals. In the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, IPR psychologist Robin Nusslock, IPR health psychologist Greg Miller, and their colleague study this hypothesis using MRI. To conduct the study, 172 adolescents between the ages of 12 to 15 living in the Chicago area attended an initial session with a parent or guardian who completed an interview about their household finances. The participants were 40.1% White, 30.8% Black, and 29.1% Hispanic. The participants underwent an MRI while performing a passive avoidance task. The adolescents completed 24 trials, choosing to press a button or not press a button when presented with four objects that would allow them to earn or lose money. The researchers find that participants with a lower income-to-poverty (IPR) ratio had worse performance on the passive avoidance task and were less likely to distinguish between reward and loss information. Their analyses identified several brain regions, including attention networks, the parietal cortex, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, whose functions contributed to these variations in performance. These findings  support the hypothesis that variations in distinguishing between long-term rewards and small, immediate rewards may be a link between poverty and life outcomes. Future research should include longitudinal studies looking at the developmental implications of poverty and how economic interventions may change the brain’s ability to process rewards. Miller is Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology.

Quantitative Methods for Policy Research

Encouraging Cognitive Skills with Video Games 

video gameIs playing action video games associated with the development of cognitive abilities? In their meta-analysis of studies in Technology, Mind, and Behavior, IPR statistician Elizabeth Tipton and her colleagues investigate this correlation. The researchers examine action video games, defined as first- or third-person shooter games, and cognition using two types of studies in this analysis: cross-sectional and intervention. Cross-sectional studies compared the cognition of those who play action video games regularly to those who do not play them. The intervention studies compared experimental groups playing action video games to a control group that played video games that are not action or brain games. The selection of studies began very broadly, using basic search terms, but was then narrowed through stringent criteria, leaving 74 cross-sectional studies, 22 intervention, and 14 that fell into both categories. In cross-sectional studies, there were significant effects noticed in perceptual, goal-oriented attentional, spatial, and multitasking skills when compared to nonvideo game players. For intervention studies, there was a medium causal effect in goal-oriented attentional and multitasking skills. The researchers conclude that playing action video games is linked to the growth of some cognitive skills, and they suggest that computer games be developed to foster cognitive development.

Politics, Institutions & Public Policy 

​​The Distributional Preferences of Americans in 2013–16

Distributional preferences, or the tradeoff between fair-mindedness and self-interest and the tradeoff between equality and efficiency, shape individual opinions about how the government should redistribute income through policies like unemployment benefits and government-funded healthcare. In a study published in Experimental Economics, IPR economist Silvia Vannutelli and her colleagues study the distributional preferences of Americans between 2013 and 2016, a period of economic upheaval and persistent inequality, as well as social change—the first attempt to examine the stability of preferences across time using a large-scale experiment. The researchers asked over 1,000 participants from the American Life Panel (ALP), a longitudinal survey of a diverse group of Americans, to complete an experiment in 2013 and again in 2016, obtaining 687 responses. The participants were presented with a sequence of decision problems about how to allocate a budget between themselves and another individual. The researchers then matched the experimental results with demographic, political, and economic information from the ALP survey to study if and how distributional preferences are explained by personal attributes, political preferences, and/or life events. Looking at the economic dimension, the researchers find that distributional preferences varied widely among the participants, with higher income being associated with greater self-interest. People whose household income increased became more self-interested, but did not see changes in their equality-efficiency orientation. The researchers also evaluate the link between political decisions and distributional preferences and find that subjects who voted for the Democratic candidate in the presidential election in both 2012 and 2016, reflecting a clear Democratic partisan orientation, become more equality-oriented. Intriguingly, shifting political allegiances is not associated with a change in distributional preferences. Despite these changes, the results show that distribution preferences are stable over time and that individual preferences in 2013 are highly predictive of those in 2016, even with social and economic turmoil in the country.

The Connection Between Long COVID and Employment Status 

Symptoms of post–COVID-19 condition, commonly called long COVID, have become a prevalent symptom afterCOVID-19 virus getting the COVID-19 virus, but little is known about how long COVID has impacted the ability to function long-term. In JAMA Network Open, IPR political scientist James Druckman and his colleagues investigate the prevalence of unemployment among individuals who did and did not develop long COVID after getting the virus. The researchers analyzed eight waves of survey data from the COVID States Project, a national survey looking at Americans’ attitudes, between February 2021 and July 2022. The 15,308 respondents they focused on had COVID-19 at least 2 months prior, and of that group, 2,236, or 14.6%, reported long COVID symptoms, including 1,027 people or (45.6%) who reported symptoms of brain fog or impaired memory. Overall, 1,418 of the total respondents reported that they were unemployed including 276, or 12.3%, of those with long COVID and 1,142, or 8.4%, or those without it. The results reveal that having long COVID symptoms was associated with a greater likelihood of being unemployed and not being employed full time. Since individuals with long COVID were more likely to have been employed before the pandemic, it’s unlikely that they were unemployed because of economic reasons, suggesting that their long COVID symptoms played a role in their inability to work. The evidence highlights the importance of developing solutions for long COVID and for employers to consider how the symptoms can affect productivity. Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science.

Poverty, Race & Inequality

Knowledge About People’s Interracial Friendships Influences How They Are Viewed 

People’s biases about other groups are shaped by their interactions with and by characteristics of those groups. In Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Kellogg social psychologist and IPR associate Ivuoma Onyeador and her colleagues conduct four studies to investigate how interracial friendships affect how an individual is viewed. The first two studies sought to determine whether perceptions of an individual’s race changed based on their assumed friendship circles. The approximately 180 participants, split between Black and White Americans, were shown two images at a time of either Black or White Americans’ faces with random noise added and were asked to select the image most likely to be a person with mostly Black, mostly White, or an equal number of Black and White friends. Those selections were then averaged to create a “mental representation” of Black and White people whose friendship network varied in its racial makeup. Participants perceived Black individuals with mostly Black friends to have darker skin than Black individuals with mostly White friends and perceived White individuals with more Black friends to have darker skin than White individuals with mostly White friends, which the researchers termed the racial assimilation effect. In the third study, 120 White participants rated how African or European individuals appeared, perceiving the images determined to have mostly Black friends as more African and those determined to have mostly White friends as more European. In the fourth, 102 participants, half Black and half White, rated how African and European the images looked, and how threatening, trustworthy, warm, competent, or lower class the individuals appeared. Study four found that in general, participants rated images of an individual generated by participants who believed the person had mostly Black friends more negatively than an individual with mixed or mostly White friends. The one exception was evaluations of White individuals with mostly White friends generated by Black participants. The research demonstrates that interracial friendships influence perceptions of race, group loyalty, and traits. Additionally, because Black and White participants positively viewed those whom they perceived to have other-race friends, the researchers suggest interracial friendships may influence perceptions of interracial solidarity.

Photo credits: Unsplash 

Published: June 14, 2023.