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Archive for October, 2011

Frame By Frame with Wheeler Winston Dixon

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Check out the latest edition of Frame By Frame with Wheeler Winston Dixon, in which our very own James Ryan Professor of Film Studies discusses the masters of special effects — Willis O’ Brien, Ray Harryhaussen, and Phil Tippett — a trio whose work has had profound influence on the motion-picture industry and the special effects that it has come to rely upon.

And for a daily dose of film, TV and culture news and musings, Dixon’s blog of the same name is a must-see. Dixon shares many thoughts and perspectives on the film industry, the history of film and current cinema on his weblog. He’s a prolific blogger, so chances are good that Dixon has recently touched on something that will interest your tastes in film.

If you’re an entertainment reporter or columnist in search of a reliable source on all things cinema and pop culture, you’ll want to bookmark Dixon’s blog.

That’s gross!: UNL study uncovers physical nature of disgust in politics

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Most likely, you would be disgusted if confronted with a picture of a man eating a mouthful of writhing worms. Or a particularly bloody wound. Or a horribly emaciated but still living body. But just how much disgust you feel may lend important insight into your personal political proclivities.

In a new study, political scientists closely measured people’s physiological reactions as they looked at a series of pleasant and unpleasant images. Participants who identified themselves as conservative – and, in particular, those who said they were against gay marriage – had strong physiological reactions when shown the gross pictures.

The study, the latest to examine the connection between political differences and humans’ built-in physiological traits, was co-authored by University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professors Kevin Smith and John Hibbing and was published this month in the Public Library of Science One.

“This is one more piece of evidence that we, quite literally, have gut feelings about politics,” Smith said. “Our political attitudes and behaviors are reflected in our biology.”

Researchers worked with 27 women and 23 men who were chosen from a larger pool of participants who also underwent thorough political questioning. The subjects were shown a series of disgusting and also relatively pleasant images while electrodes on their skin measured subtle skin conductance changes, which indicated an emotional response.

As predicted, conservatives responded to the pictures with much more intense disgust than did liberals. Attitudes in opposition to same-sex marriage were highly connected.

The results add to a growing area of research that suggests biology plays a larger role in influencing political orientation than many might think. Recent UNL work has produced findings in this area, including a 2008 study that found people who are highly responsive to threatening images were likely to support defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq War.

“The proper interpretation of the findings (in the current study) is not that biology causes politics or that politics causes biology,” the authors write, “but that certain political orientations at some unspecified point become housed in our biology, with meaningful political consequences.”

Acceptance of the role of involuntary physiological responses is not easy for many, however: “Most are proud of their political orientations, believe them to be rational responses to the world around them, and are reluctant to concede that subconscious predispositions play any role in shaping them,” they write. Still, the authors suggest that if recognition of the relevance of politics of involuntary physiology became more widespread, it could diminish frustration from the perceived illogical inflexibility of political opponents and reduce political hostility.

“After all, if political differences are traceable in part to the fact that people vary in the way they physically experience the world, certitude that any particular worldview is ‘correct’ may abate, lessening the hubris that fuels political conflict.”

In addition to UNL’s Smith and Hibbing, the study was co-authored by Douglas Oxley of Texas A&M University; Matthew Hibbing of the University of California, Merced; and John Alford of Rice University.

Contact: Kevin Smith, professor of political science, (402) 472-0779 or; John Hibbing, professor of political science, (402) 472-3220 or

Coverage: | RealClear Science | Daily Mail (UK) | MSNBC |

Research: Mentoring works … if you can handle the truth

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

For some, the question isn’t really whether leaders are born or made, it’s finding the best way to make them. Now, a first-of-its-kind study suggests an answer.

In a field experiment, researchers found that pairing a seasoned pro with a promising prospect in an informal mentorship was significantly more potent in developing strong leaders than formal group training. The process, however, was effective only if proteges fully trusted their mentor and were willing to handle blunt criticism, not just empty praise.

“Organizations in the U.S. spend billions each year trying to develop better leaders with mixed results. This study is important because it explains why so many programs may be falling short of expectations,” said Peter Harms, assistant professor of management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-author of the study.

The research was conducted over six months and involved hundreds of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The field experiment randomly assigned cadets to either a tailored, structured mentorship program or a comparison group that would participate in group leadership training in a classroom setting. Results showed that cadets participating in the semi-formal mentorships were significantly more likely to increase their confidence for being in a leadership role than their counterparts.

Why? Mentors may have been important in helping proteges make meaning out of their experiences in a focused, one-on-one manner as compared to a less-personalized group setting. Mentors also provided important psychosocial support and served to validate their proteges’ claims of leadership.

For the process to work, however, proteges needed to be open and willing to discuss and explore their leadership with their mentor. That required a high level of trust, Harms said. Additionally, proteges who were oriented to handle tough and negative feedback also got more from the mentorships than those who preferred to be only complimented on their performance. For the latter group, mentoring was relatively ineffective.

“West Point cadets are taught the value of doing what is right, even if it is hard for them,” Harms said. “There’s a reason for this. Individuals who embraced this principle showed that they are the ones who deserve to be leaders of the future. And when the time comes, they will be ready.”

The research has important implications for business, Harms said. Organizations may want to consider approaching leadership development in new, more systematic ways by using mentors. Prior research has also demonstrated that mentoring relationships have positive benefits for mentors as well as their proteges.

“Organizations have to decide for themselves how important leadership development is for them. It is possible, but it is also hard. But as this study showed, for both organizations and for individuals, self-improvement sometimes means doing something that is hard for you,” he said.

The study was authored by Paul Lester of the U.S. Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Directorate; Sean Hannah of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; UNL’s Harms; Gretchen Vogelgesang of Federal Management Partners and Bruce Avolio of the University of Washington.

How important is it to men for them to be fathers?

Monday, October 10th, 2011

The classic figure of a distant, career-focused father who spends lots of time at the office and who has little time for his kids might be getting outdated, a new study shows.

In a nationwide survey that examined Americans’ feelings on fatherhood, 75 percent of U.S. men rated being a good father as very important, while just 48 percent said the same about having a successful career.

Still, the study, which surveyed nearly 1,000 men across the United States who are in relationships with women, suggests that fathers and non-fathers alike see fatherhood as a “package deal” – they consider things like work and leisure important, too. But those elements complement, not compete with, being a parent.

“There is an image for men that if they’re into their career, then they’re not into being fathers,” said Julia McQuillan, professor of sociology at UNL and co-author of the research. “These results, however, show something quite different. Men don’t have to be into one or the other. They can be into both.”

The research surveyed both fathers and non-fathers who were either married or co-habiting, and was unique in that men were not asked to choose between things like work, parenthood or leisure and rank them against one another. Instead, researchers asked them to rate the importance of fatherhood alongside other interests in their lives.

By doing so, the study uncovered several insights into modern attitudes on fatherhood, both for men with children and those without. Notably, cultural and identity factors were more important correlates than economic factors when considering men’s feelings on fatherhood.

McQuillan said she was surprised that so many men agreed with concepts that were originally developed by researchers for another study that measured the importance of motherhood to women. The results are counter to conventional notions of fathers seeing themselves chiefly as economic providers.

Most of the men agreed or strongly agreed with statements such as “Having children is important to my feeling complete as a man”; “I always thought I would be a parent”; “I think my life will be or is more fulfilling with children”; and “It is important for me to have children,” she said. Additionally, more than 75 percent of the men said that it was very important to their life to raise children.

“There has been considerable focus on women’s challenges combining motherhood and employment. Yet in this sample only half of the men considered their career very important,” McQuillan said. “Perhaps recognizing that fatherhood is important to men could open employers up to creating flexibility for parenting among men as well as women, and to not assume anything about employees based on gender or parenthood status alone.”

Also among the findings:

- Men who valued leisure and career, who espoused greater religiosity, who embraced non-egalitarian gender values, and who were already fathers tended to value fatherhood most.

- Fathers had lower education levels, were less likely to be in school, were more religious and were more likely to endorse non-egalitarian gender attitudes.

-About two-thirds of the men – 65 percent – endorsed egalitarian gender attitudes.

- Importance of fatherhood declined with age among non-fathers.

The study, to appear in the journal Fathering, was authored by Veronica Tichenor of the State University of New York-Institute of Technology; McQuillan; Arthur Griel of Alfred University; Raleigh Contreras of UNL; and Karina Shreffler of Oklahoma State University.

UNL in the national news: September 2011

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

National media outlets featured and cited UNL sources on a number of topics in the past month. Appearances in national media included:

Wheeler Winston Dixon, film studies, was quoted Sept. 7 by Reuters about the tone and direction of motion pictures in the era following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. On Sept. 25, he was quoted by the Los Angeles Times about 3-D makeovers coming to classic Hollywood movies.

Rebecca Fisher, music, was quoted Sept. 29 by the Wall Street Journal about the importance of performance psychology.

Jim Goeke, professor emeritus in the School of Natural Resources, was quoted Sept. 25 by the Associated Press about the potential environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline on the Ogallala Aquifer. The story appeared in dozens of media outlets nationwide.

Amanda Holman, communication studies, had her research into how college students’ social networks define and affect campus ‘hookups’ featured in a number of media outlets in September, including LiveScience,, ABC News, United Press International, GOOD Magazine, and Men’s Health.

Ari Kohen, political science, was featured in a Sept. 8 story by Campus Progress about how Twitter is used to open up his class on contemporary political theory.

Patrice McMahon, political science, was quoted in a Sept. 25 Associated Press article about the benefits of college students studying abroad. The story appeared in dozens of media outlets nationwide.

Julia McQuillan, sociology, was quoted Sept. 9 in Glamour magazine about U.S. women’s attitudes about becoming pregnant.

Mark Svoboda, geosciences, was quoted by Reuters News on Sept. 1 about the intensity of drought conditions in the southern United States throughout the next several months. He was also quoted by MSNBC on Sept. 8 on the topic.

A Sept. 15 visit to the College of Law from U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas received national attention. Stories about Thomas’ comments during a roundtable discussion with law professors Eric Berger, Josephine Potuto and Richard Duncan were picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in dozens of media outlets nationwide.

William Thomas, history, appeared Sept. 25 on the C-SPAN series “The Contenders” for an episode about William Jennings Bryan.

Eric Thompson, economics, was quoted Sept. 1 in The Huffington Post on UNL’s State Entrepreneurship Index, which ranked U.S. states on entrepreneurial activity in 2010. On Sept. 28, he was quoted in a national Associated Press story about the UNL Bureau of Business Research report projecting the Nebraska economy to remain strong through 2013. The article appeared in dozens of media outlets nationwide.

Frans von der Dunk, space law, was quoted by Slate on Sept. 1 about the necessary legal framework among nations regarding space debris. On Sept. 23, he spoke with Agence France-Presse about NASA’s falling satellite, and his comments were then cited in numerous Associated Press articles in the following days.

Mike Wagner, political science, was quoted in a Sept. 27 Real Clear Politics story about the Tea Party’s influence — or lack thereof — on the Nebraska GOP Senate primary.

National media often work with University Communications to identify and connect with UNL sources for the purpose of including the university’s research, expertise and programming in published work. Faculty and administration appearances in the national media are logged at

To offer suggestions regarding potential national news stories or sources at UNL, give me a shout at or 472-4226.