US ranks in top 10 in empathy

October 16, 2016

A first-of-its-kind study that ranks nations by empathy puts the United States at No. 7, behind countries ranging from Peru to Korea to Saudi Arabia.

While a top 10 finish isn’t bad, Michigan State University’s William Chopik, lead author of the study, notes that the psychological states of Americans have been changing in recent decades – leading to a larger focus on the individual and less on others. Read more

Solar storm nearly took US to brink of war in 1967

August 10, 2016

A solar storm that jammed radar and radio communications at the height of the Cold War could have led to a disastrous military conflict if not for the U.S. Air Force’s budding efforts to monitor the sun’s activity, a new study finds.

On May 23, 1967, the Air Force prepared aircraft for war, thinking the nation’s surveillance radars in polar regions were being jammed by the Soviet Union. Just in time, military space weather forecasters conveyed information about the solar storm’s potential to disrupt radar and radio communications. The planes remained on the ground and the U.S. avoided a potential nuclear weapon exchange with the Soviet Union, according to the new research.

Retired U.S. Air Force officers involved in forecasting and analyzing the storm collectively describe the event publicly for the first time in a new paper accepted for publication in Space Weather, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Read more

Nearly 80 percent of drivers express significant anger, aggression or road rage

July 16, 2016

Nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the past year, according to a new study released today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The most alarming findings suggest that approximately eight million U.S. drivers engaged in extreme examples of road rage, including purposefully ramming another vehicle or getting out of the car to confront another driver.

“Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage,” said Jurek Grabowski, Director of Research for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.” Read more

Why Clinton and Trump supporters don’t mix

July 8, 2016

Living around people with opposing political viewpoints affects your ability to form close relationships and accept other perspectives – and may even change your personality, finds a national study led by a Michigan State University scholar.

The findings also could help explain why so many Americans are moving to areas that suit them politically, further segregating the nation into “red” and “blue” states, said William Chopik, MSU assistant professor of psychology. Read more

Appalachian coal ash richest in rare earth elements

May 27, 2016

A study of the content of rare earth elements in U.S. coal ashes shows that coal mined from the Appalachian Mountains could be the proverbial golden goose for hard-to-find materials critical to clean energy and other emerging technologies.

In the wake of a 2014 coal ash spill into North Carolina’s Dan River from a ruptured Duke Energy drainage pipe, the question of what to do with the nation’s aging retention ponds and future coal ash waste has been a highly contested topic.

One particularly entrepreneurial idea is to extract so-called “critical” rare earth elements such as neodymium, europium, terbium, dysprosium, yttrium and erbium from the burned coal. The Department of Energy has identified these globally scarce metals as a priority for their uses in clean energy and other emerging technologies. But exactly how much of these elements are contained in different sources of coal ash in the U.S. had never been explored. Read more

New evidence that humans settled in southeastern US far earlier than previously believed

May 16, 2016

The discovery of stone tools found in a Florida river show that humans settled the southeastern United States far earlier than previously believed–perhaps by as much as 1,500 years, according to a team of scientists that includes a University of Michigan paleontologist.

Michael Waters of Texas A&M University and Jessi Halligan of Florida State University led a research team that also included U-M’s Daniel Fisher and scientists from the University of Minnesota, University of Texas, University of Arizona, Stafford Research Laboratories in Colorado, Aucilla Research Institute in Florida, and Exeter and Cambridge universities in the United Kingdom. Read more

Attending US charter schools may lead to higher earnings in the future

April 24, 2016

A new study suggests that charter school students are more likely to do well at college and earn significantly more than their counterparts at other schools.

Using data from Florida, researchers confirmed previous research that students attending charter high schools are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college. In addition, when they examined two longer-term outcomes not previously studied in research on charter schools–college persistence and earnings–they found that students attending charter high schools were more likely to persist in college, and that in their mid-20s they had higher earnings. Read more

Clues from the animal kingdom on what makes a leader?

November 6, 2015

As the American media continues to buzz over who is more or less likely to secure the Republican and Democratic nominations for U.S. President, researchers in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution review some interesting perspectives on the nature of leadership. The experts from a wide range of disciplines examined patterns of leadership in a set of small-scale mammalian societies, including humans and other social mammals such as elephants and meerkats.

“While previous work has typically started with the premise that leadership is somehow intrinsically different or more complex in humans than in other mammals, we started without a perceived notion about whether this should be the case,” said Jennifer Smith of Mills College in Oakland, California. “By approaching this problem with an open mind and by developing comparable measures to compare vastly different societies, we revealed more similarities than previously appreciated between leadership in humans and non-humans.”

Chimpanzees travel together, capuchins cooperate in fights, and spotted hyenas cooperate in hunting, but the common ways that leaders promote those collective actions has remained mysterious, Smith and her colleagues say. It wasn’t clear just how much human leaders living in small-scale societies have in common with those in other mammalian societies either.

To consider this issue, a group of biologists, anthropologists, mathematicians, and psychologists gathered at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. These experts reviewed the evidence for leadership in four domains–movement, food acquisition, within-group conflict mediation, and between-group interactions–to categorize patterns of leadership in five dimensions: distribution across individuals, emergence (achieved versus inherited), power, relative payoff to leadership, and generality across domains.

Despite what those ongoing presidential primaries might lead one to think, the analysis by the scientific experts finds that leadership is generally achieved as individuals gain experience, in both humans and non-humans. There are notable exceptions to this rule: leadership is inherited rather than gained through experience among spotted hyenas and the Nootka, a Native Canadian tribe on the northwest coast of North America.

In comparison to other mammal species, human leaders aren’t so powerful after all. Leadership amongst other mammalian species tends to be more concentrated, with leaders that wield more power over the group.

Smith says the similarities probably reflect shared cognitive mechanisms governing dominance and subordination, alliance formation, and decision-making–humans are mammals after all. The differences may be explained in part by humans’ tendency to take on more specialized roles within society.

“Even in the least complex human societies, the scale of collective action is greater and presumably more critical for survival and reproduction than in most other mammalian societies,” Smith said.

The researchers now plan to further quantify the various dimensions identified in the new work. There’s still plenty more to learn. “As ambitious as our task was, we have only just scraped the surface in characterizing leadership across mammalian societies and some of the most exciting aspects of the project are still yet to come as biologists and anthropologists implement our novel scheme for additional taxa and societies,” Smith said.

Laws in 25 states put the brakes on high school bullying

October 5, 2015

In the most comprehensive study of the effectiveness of anti-bullying policies to date, researchers found that compliance with the U.S. Department of Education guidelines in antibullying laws reduced rates of bullying and cyberbullying–the most common forms of peer aggression. The study, which uncovered varying rates of bullying reported across the states, has important implications for educators, policy makers, and researchers. Findings will appear online in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Though bullying is the result of a complicated set of social, psychological, and peer impulses, we now see that laws aimed to reduce bullying are successful,” said Mark Hatzenbuehler, PhD, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who led the study with Marizen Ramirez, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health in the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “While policies alone cannot completely eradicate bullying, these data suggest that legislation represents an important part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent bullying.”

These findings are significant for many reasons, including giving a “green light” to conduct more granular studies that focus on different combinations of legislation, how implementation of these policies affects their effectiveness, and whether antibullying legislation is effective in protecting students who are most vulnerable to bullying.

Responses of more than 60,000 adolescents in grades 9 to 12 to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance were matched against data on anti-bullying legislation in 25 states obtained from the U.S. Department of Education, which commissioned a review of state law in 2011. Each state was assigned compliance scores for 16 components identified by the Department.

Findings showed there were three critical components to having successful antibullying state laws in terms of reducing both bullying and cyberbullying: a description of where schools can intervene to address bullying — for example, on school grounds only or beyond; a clear definition of bullying; and a requirement that schools have a local policy or a timeline when a policy must be in place. Training elements, enumerated groups, and communication of the policies were also effective for reducing either cyberbullying or traditional face-to-face bullying. The study controlled for state-level violent crime rates and historical bullying rates, which otherwise may have affected the results.

High school students in states with at least one component in the antibullying law were 24 percent less likely to report acts of bullying and 20 percent less likely to be cyberbullied compared to students in states without legislation. Rates of bullying ranged from a low of 13 percent reported by Alabama to 27 percent for South Dakota. Cyberbullying rates ranged from 12 percent in Alabama to 20 percent in South Dakota and an overall average of 15.5 percent. Students were considered a target of bullying if they reported being bullied on school property in the past year and a target of cyberbullying if they reported being electronically bullied (e.g., through email, texting, Websites) in the past year.

“Bullying is a common experience among children, and passing legislation to curb bullying is an important prevention strategy,” said Ramirez. “However, research on the effectiveness of these laws has been lagging. This research represents an important step in linking public health research with the practice of public health law. Moving forward, this collaboration will help identify what laws are most effective in curbing bullying in schools.”

These results follow on earlier findings that revealed far lower rates of suicide attempts among gay and lesbian youths in Oregon counties whose anti-bullying legislation mentioned sexual orientation. In that study, published in 2013, Hatzenbuehler and Katherine Keyes, also of the Mailman School, addressed the county-by-county variability of this legislation and found that more specific policies provided the most protection for lesbian and gay youth.

“Bullying and cyberbullying are significant public health issues that threaten American youth’s well-being,” said Marci Hertz, MS, lead health scientist, CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Bullying hurts kids physically and emotionally and can affect how well they do in school. This research will help us proactively identify and put in place strategies to protect our children from bullying and bullying-related behaviors using evidence-based strategies.”

“Although more research is needed, our study is an important first step in providing guidance to legislators and school administrators about best practices to reduce bullying and to give protection to young people all over the country,” Hatzenbuehler said.

Daily pot smoking among US college students highest since 1980

September 1, 2015

Daily marijuana use among the nation’s college students is on the rise, surpassing daily cigarette smoking for the first time in 2014.

A series of national surveys of U.S. college students, as part of the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study, shows that marijuana use has been growing slowly on the nation’s campuses since 2006.

Daily or near-daily marijuana use was reported by 5.9 percent of college students in 2014–the highest rate since 1980, the first year that complete college data were available in the study. This rate of use is up from 3.5 percent in 2007. In other words, one in every 17 college students is smoking marijuana on a daily or near-daily basis, defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the prior 30 days.

Other measures of marijuana use have also shown an increase: The percent using marijuana once or more in the prior 30 days rose from 17 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2014. Use in the prior 12 months rose from 30 percent in 2006 to 34 percent in 2014. Both of these measures leveled in 2014.

“It’s clear that for the past seven or eight years there has been an increase in marijuana use among the nation’s college students,” said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the study. “And this largely parallels an increase we have been seeing among high school seniors.”

Much of this increase may be due to the fact that marijuana use at any level has come to be seen as dangerous by fewer adolescents and young adults. For example, while 55 percent of all 19-to-22-year-old high school graduates saw regular marijuana use as dangerous in 2006, only 35 percent saw it as dangerous by 2014.

The study also found that the proportion of college students using any illicit drug, including marijuana, in the prior 12 months rose from 34 percent in 2006 to 41 percent in 2013 before falling off some to 39 percent in 2014. That seven-year increase was driven primarily by the increase in marijuana use, though marijuana was not the only drug on the rise.

The proportion of college students using any illicit drug other than marijuana in the prior 12 months increased from 15 percent in 2008–the recent low point–to 21 percent in 2014, including a continuing increase in 2014. The increase appears attributable mostly to college students’ increased use of amphetamines (without a doctor’s orders) and use of ecstasy.

These and other results about drug use come from Monitoring the Future, an annual survey that has been reporting on U.S. college students’ substance use of all kinds for 35 years. The study began in 1980 and is conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research with funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the National Institutes of Health.

College students’ nonmedical use of amphetamines in the prior 12 months nearly doubled between 2008 (when 5.7 percent said they used) and 2012 (when 11.1 percent used), before leveling at 10.1 percent in 2014.

“It seems likely that this increase in amphetamine use on the college campus resulted from more students using these drugs to try to improve their studies and test performance,” Johnston said. Read more

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