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Archive for June, 2012

Study: Kids with obvious disabilities and behavior issues more likely to bully, be bullied

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Students receiving special-education services for behavioral disorders and those with more obvious disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their general-education counterparts — and are also more likely to bully other students, a new study shows.

The findings, published in the Journal of School Psychology, highlight the complexity of bullying’s nature and the challenges in addressing the problem, said lead author Susan Swearer, professor of school psychology at UNL.

“These results paint a fairly bleak picture for students with disabilities in terms of bullying, victimization and disciplinary actions,” wrote Swearer, a national expert on school bullying who has consulted with both the White House and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation on anti-bullying initiatives. “Sadly, these are the students who most need to display prosocial behavior and receive support from their peers.”

The research followed more than 800 special-ed and general-ed students between the ages of 9 and 16 at nine different elementary, middle and high schools over time. More than a third — 38.1 percent — said they had bullied other students. At the same time, 67 percent said bullies had victimized them.

The study found that students who received special education services were at increased risk for bullying others, for being bullied, for being sent to the school office for disciplinary problems and for engaging in antisocial behavior. In particular, students with observable disabilities — language or hearing impairments or mild mental handicaps — reported the highest levels of bullying others and being bullied themselves.

“The observable nature of the disability makes it easy to identify those students as individuals with disabilities, which may place them at greater risk for being the easy target of bullying,” Swearer and her co-authors wrote. “Also, being frustrated with the experience of victimization, those students might engage in bullying behavior as a form of revenge.”
Also among the study’s findings:

— Students with non-observable disabilities, such as a learning disability, weren’t affected as much. They reported similar levels of bullying and victimization as students without disabilities, and reported significantly less victimization compared with students with more outward behavioral disabilities.

— As general-education students who bullied others progressed through middle school, their bullying behaviors increased through and peaked at seventh grade — and then steadily decreased.

— Both boys and girls engaged in bullying. Gender differences in both general-education and special-education students were statistically insignificant when it came to the behavior.

— For students in general education, there was a major difference by grade level in their experience with victimization. Fifth-graders reported much more victimization than sixth-, seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. But for students in special education, there was no difference by grade level.

The authors suggest several steps to address their findings. First, anti-bullying interventions emphasizing prosocial skills should be implemented for students, regardless of their ability. Students in general education could help the process by serving as prosocial role models for students with disabilities. Also, the authors suggest, helping students with observable disabilities become better integrated into general-education classes may help prevent them from being bullied.

“Programming should be consistently implemented across general and special education, should occur in each grade and should be part of an inclusive curriculum,” the authors wrote. “A culture of respect, tolerance and acceptance is our only hope for reducing bullying among all school-aged youth.”

In addition to Swearer, the study was authored by Cixin Wang at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins University; John W. Maag, professor of special education at UNL; Amanda B. Siebecker of Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic; and Lynae J. Frerichs, a pediatric psychologist with Complete Children’s Health in Lincoln.

UNL research prof discovered ‘supertongued’ bat to be featured by NatGeo

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Photo: Murray Cooper, courtesy Nathan Muchhala

When Anoura fistulata – also known as the Tube-Lipped Nectar Bat – was first discovered in South America in 2005, it gained worldwide notoriety for its ability to snap its tongue out 1 1/2 times its own body length, proportionally longer than other mammals and twice as long as other similar bats.

On Sunday, when the super-tongued marvel makes its high-definition, prime-time television debut on a National Geographic Channel special, one viewer in Lincoln will be observing that super-tongue very closely – maybe taking a few notes, even.

Nathan Muchhala of UNL’s School of Biological Sciences was a leader of the research team that discovered the bat in the cloud forests of the Ecuadoran Andes seven years ago. He and colleagues later identified it as a new species.

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln postdoctoral fellow since 2011, Muchhala recently traveled to South America with a NatGeo film crew to capture the long-tongued bat in super-slow motion as it zipped from bloom to jungle flower bloom, slurping nectar from long-funneled flowers. The footage will appear in the premier episode of the network’s new nature documentary series Untamed Americas, which airs Sunday and Monday.

“This will be interesting video that we’re excited to see and that we should be able to follow up on,” Muchhala said. “It should give us a chance to see better how that tongue works.”

Researchers suspect the bat’s super-long tongue evolved to forage on long, bell-shaped Andean flowers that have nectar buried at the end of their long funnels. The bat takes a fraction of a second to sink its tongue repeatedly into the flower tube in search of nectar and, as it does, picks up pollen on its head and snout. It then drops the pollen off at the next flower it visits.

In experiments, Muchhala and colleagues discovered the tongue was nearly 3 1/2 inches long. Considering the bat’s body is about two inches long, it was a surprising find, and it led to another theory – that the bat and the flower, Centropogon nigricans, evolved together. The flower’s funnel is just as long as the bat’s tongue.

“It was really neat to discover the bat, and it was in comparing it to other nectar bats that got us thinking about its role in pollinating that specific flower,” he said.

The footage, Muchhala said, should shed more light on Anoura fistulata’s most amazing trait – and just exactly how that tongue extends to nab nectar.

“One thing you can see in some of the close-up footage is the way the papillae, or ‘hairs,’ on the end of the tongue stick straight out right before the tongue retracts, maximizing surface area and allowing the bat to mop up as much nectar as possible per lick,” he said.

The bat’s tongue also appears to differ from the “ballistic” tongue of a chameleon, which stays coiled inside its mouth until needed and then unfurls at breakneck speed. Instead, the bat’s tongue’s base slides back and into its rib cage. When it extends its tongue, it does so gradually and at a constant rate, more like how an earthworm moves, Muchhala said.

“The film helps us see that whole process much more clearly,” he said. “It all takes place in a third of a second, and there’s an incredible amount of detail (in the footage).”

Muchhala came to UNL to further his research and is learning how to do genetic work in UNL assistant professor Stacey Smith’s lab, which focuses on the origin and maintenance of floral diversity. Currently, he’s extracting DNA from plants and bats to develop phylogenetic “trees” to map out the species’ evolutionary relationships.

“These diagrams will help us to understand the evolution of the remarkable adaptations of both the flowers and their pollinators,” he said.

The two-night miniseries, narrated by actor Josh Brolin, begins at 8 p.m. CDT on the National Geographic Channel. Here’s a preview of the video featuring the Tube-Lipped Nectar Bat and more on the Untamed Americas series.

Contact: Nathan Muchhala, research assistant professor, UNL School of Biological Sciences at

UNL in the national news: May 2012

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

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

Beth Burkstrand-Reid, law, wrote a May 16 op-ed for Huffington Post on the war on sex for pleasure.

Wheeler Winston Dixon, film studies, was quoted May 10 by the Arizona Republic about why film franchises “reboot.” The story was carried in dozens of outlets via Gannett News Service.

Michael Fromm, Zoya Avramova and Yong Ding had their research into how certain plants “remember” drought and adapt to survive featured in a May 15 national article by The Associated Press. The story appeared in dozens of media outlets around the nation and globe.

Ronnie Green, vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was quoted May 17 in an Associated Press article announcing the proposed launch of NU’s Rural Futures Institute to improve Nebraska’s small towns. The story appeared in dozens of media outlets around the nation and globe. The Rural Futures Institute also was featured by Inside Higher Ed on May 21.

Peter Harms, management, had his research into narcissists’ abilities to excel in job interviews featured by Psychology Today on May 1. On May 7, his research into how CEOs’ looks can reflect on their success was featured by the Youngstown Vindicator.

John Hibbing, political science, was quoted May 15 by ABC News following Deb Fischer’s upset win in the GOP Senate primary.

Ari Kohen, political science, was cited by The Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan for his thoughts on MSNBC’s Chris Hayes’ comments on heroism during the Memorial Day weekend.

Richard Moberly, law, was quoted by CBS News on May 9 about ex-Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary’s whistleblower case against the school. The story appeared in dozens of CBS affiliate outlets.

Ralph Narain, a Ph. D. candidate in entomology, had his research into how bed bugs avoid blood with higher alcohol content featured by Life’s Little Mysteries, which led to it appearing in a number of media outlets around the country, including The Huffington Post.

The National Drought Mitigation Center was cited regularly in May, including in a CNN story that appeared in dozens of media outlets about Tropical Storm Beryl’s impact on southern drought.

The NIMBUS Lab at UNL had its flying, wireless quadrotor inductive charger featured May 30 by Popular Science.

Chancellor Harvey Perlman was quoted May 16 by Inside Higher Ed about a potential college football playoff and the philosophical and practical shift from the BCS it would represent.

Timothy Schaffert, English, had his book “The Coffins of Little Hope” cited in Nancy Pearl’s May 25 column for Publishers Weekly.

Susan Swearer, school psychology, wrote an op-ed for The Seattle Times on May 18 submitting that it’s time to tell bullies enough is enough. On May 30, she was quoted in a national Associated Press story on anti-bullying steps.

Frans von der Dunk, law, appeared in a number of national and international outlets in early May following Planetary Resources’ announcement to eventually extract water and rare metals from space asteroids. Appearances included the Daily Mail (UK), Science Daily, NPR, the Sydney Morning Herald and Bloomberg Law.

Mike Wagner, political science, was quoted May 10 about U.S. Senate candidate Bob Kerrey’s comments on gay marriage by The Associated Press. On May 14, he spoke with NPR’s Morning Edition about the GOP zeroing in on the state’s open Senate seat. On May 15, he was quoted by the Christian Science Monitor on the Tea Party’s role in the primary. On May 31, he was quoted by the Chronicle of Higher Education about the political impact of Bob Kerrey’s pay from the New School.

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 here.  To offer suggestions regarding potential national news stories or sources at UNL, contact Steve Smith at or (402) 472-4226.