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Archive for October, 2012

UNL’s Swearer to lead Gaga’s advisory, research board

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Susan Swearer will lead a new research board to advise Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation on its youth empowerment and tolerance programs, the foundation announced this week.

The group also will work to boost the influence of the foundation’s proposals and apply well-founded research to all of the foundation’s upcoming programs.

Swearer, professor of school psychology in the College of Education and Human Sciences, will be chairwoman of the six-person group, called the Research and Advisory Board. It includes researchers from New York University, Harvard University and the University of Chicago, among other schools.

“It’s an honor to be working with an esteemed group of scholars,” Swearer said. “The Research Advisory Board has been helping the Foundation make sure that its initiatives are grounded in research and will make sure that research guides their programming.”

Gaga’s foundation, co-founded by her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, recruited Swearer to help its official launch in February. Swearer co-directs the Bullying Research Network, which promotes international collaboration among bullying and peer victimization researchers. Swearer has been working with Born This Way since 2011, helping to create resources as the foundation prepared to officially enter the national anti-bullying discussion.

“Susan Swearer knows how to translate strong, solid research into practical, relevant strategies for youth and the adults and families who work with them,” said Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of UNL’s College of Education and Human Sciences. “She is a bridge from the research world that cares about bullying, to the public that cares about bullying. Her ability to connect those two worlds will serve her well in this role.”

In a statement, Germanotta said the board is “made up of some of the brightest minds in education and adolescent research. With the help of these university-based experts, we will be able to reach even more youth and provide them with the tools necessary to be the brave person they were each born to be.”

The board will evaluate ongoing programs and give feedback on new proposals, while also providing assessment and evaluation strategies for existing programs – including Born Brave Nation, localized groups of supporters working to affect change in their homes, schools and communities.

Swearer and Gaga in February during the BTWF launch.

Contact: Susan Swearer, Professor of School Psychology, 402-472-1741 or

It’s about time: Research tracks how campaign information plays, stays in voters’ minds

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

(Photo: CBS News)

Maybe you’re a Republican and believe Mitt Romney will sail to victory on the lasting momentum of his early October debate performance. Or maybe you’re a Democrat who thinks that President Obama’s consistent policy messages in the late summer and early fall will remind voters to award him with a second term in November.

But if your candidate of choice wants his message to leave a lasting impact on undecided or low-information voters as they cast their ballots, he may want to focus on having a strong closing week, University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist Dona-Gene Mitchell says.

Mitchell researches the effects of time on the political process — and specifically, how long information endures or how fast it fades from people’s minds during multi-week campaigns. Her most recent findings, published in the American Journal of Political Science, suggest that in a tightly controlled information environment, issue-related information about a candidate was supplanted quickly from voters’ minds by new data.

Character and personal facts about a candidate, meanwhile, were found to stick in people’s memories a little longer – but not by much.

“I find a remarkably limited role for enduring information effects,” Mitchell said. “In other words, during campaigns, citizens appear to operate as if they have short-term memory loss where information this week mattered but the effects quickly faded a week later.”

Mitchell’s work employs a unique approach into the study of how different kinds of candidate information is processed. Unlike previous experimental studies, which had been done in a single sitting, the method releases different types of information about a candidate to study participants over 12 weeks. This approach, Mitchell said, brings new insights into the lifespan of campaign information – and just how much of it helps voters to modify their judgments about a candidate.

In her most recent study, information was provided once a week about a hypothetical Republican candidate for Congress. The type of information varied: Sometimes it was about the candidate’s character or communicated a personal detail; others, his positions on different political issues. After receiving the information each week, participants then evaluated the candidate.

Some information, such as the candidate’s party affiliation, exhibited stronger staying power with the study’s participants. But Mitchell said she was surprised at how other less sticky information, particularly where a candidate stood on a single issue, was displaced to make room for new facts. Partisanship combined with new short-term information to push other stockpiled information about the candidate out of participants’ minds.

“What is particularly striking about these findings is that the rapid rate at which information effects decay may be greater than previously imagined,” Mitchell said.

Does this mean that whoever gets the last word in the campaign can expect to spend the next four years in the White House? Not necessarily, Mitchell said. While the study brings new understanding into the lifespans of certain types of political messages, it was primarily designed to look at low-information campaigns such as races for the House of Representatives and not forecast presidential horse races. But it does provide food for thought in a presidential campaign in which a relatively small slice of undecided or low-information voters in a handful of states may swing the election.

Mitchell’s upcoming research looks further into the temporal dynamics on political information effects. A forthcoming study examines how much more voters pay attention when a staunchly partisan official becomes more inconsistent in his or her views. She also is determining empirically how much the timing of a political scandal, and the amount of coverage devoted to the scandal, matters in a race.

“We have only a limited understanding of how and to what extent people modify their judgments as new information becomes available and the salience of old information fades,” she said. “But what we know from this research is that timing definitely matters.”

Contact: Dona-Gene Mitchell, assistant professor of political science, (402) 472-5994 or

Childfree women feel most pressure to have kids — but stress least about it, national study finds

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Women who choose to be permanently childfree perceive more social pressures to become mothers than other women, but feel less distress about not having kids than women who are childless from infertility or other reasons, a new national study shows.

The first-of-its-kind study, from a national survey of nearly 1,200 American women of reproductive age with no children, identified various reasons why women have no children, from medical and situational barriers to delaying pregnancy to choosing to be childfree. It sought to determine if those different reasons contributed to different types of concerns about being childless.

“Motherhood is so highly connected with adult femininity in the United States that many women feel that they need to be mothers,” said Julia McQuillan, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist and the study’s lead author. “Yet we also found that there are women who have low or no distress about not being mothers, even if their friends and family want them to have children.”

In recent years more U.S. women – estimates suggest about 20 percent – are ending childbearing years without having children. Some can’t conceive because of biomedical infertility; others simply delay because of financial concerns, educational demands, job demands, not finding the right partner or other situational barriers.

Though all the women were in the same social situation – not being mothers – researchers questioned if the specific reason for not having children shaped how they experienced their situation.

The study found that the reason for having children did matter for distress related to not having children, but only because reasons were associated with how important motherhood is to women’s identities. Women who were involuntarily childless because of biomedical reasons put the highest importance on motherhood, and had the highest distress.

Researchers were surprised that pressure from others was not a bigger factor in explaining differences in distress, since many American women face social pressures to have children. But the study showed that influence from others to have children was associated with distress only if the women considered motherhood important.

That key factor overrode many others – social pressures, income, age, race and education level – as the most important attribute in judging childlessness concerns.

The results of the study, the first to closely examine the different reasons behind childlessness and their social effects on women, raise questions about what room there is in American culture for women to have successful, fulfilling lives without being mothers, McQuillan said.

“This highlights that not all women without children are the same. While some may be devastated, others are content and finding fulfillment through other avenues such as leisure or career pursuits,” she said. “Rather than assume that women without children are missing something, society should benefit from valuing a variety of paths for adult women to have satisfying lives.”

Also in the study:

- The proportion of Hispanic and African-American women was lowest among those who were voluntarily childfree, but was highest among women with biomedical fertility barriers. That pattern was the opposite for white women.

- The average age of voluntarily childfree women was about four years older than the average age among childless women with biomedical barriers, and about six years older than childless women with or without situational barriers.

- Family income was highest among voluntarily childfree women and lowest among women with medical barriers.

- Women who considered themselves more religious actually perceived fewer average social messages stressing the importance of having children, compared with less religious women.

“Listening to a broad spectrum of American women about the degree of importance of motherhood in their lives and the meanings of not having children is reshaping how we think about opportunities for meaningful adult femininity,” McQuillan said. “Just as reproductive options have increased, both for limiting fertility and overcoming fertility barriers, we are learning what is devastating for some women is a relief for other women.”

The study is published in The Journal of Marriage and Family. In addition to McQuillan, the work was authored by Arthur Griel of Alfred University; Karina Shreffler and John Hathcoat of Oklahoma State University; and Patricia Wonch-Hill and Kari Gentzler of UNL.

Contact: Julia McQuillan, professor of sociology, (402) 472-6040 or

Coverage: LiveScience | Fox News | NBC News | DN |

UNL in the national news: September 2012

Monday, October 8th, 2012
National media outlets featured and cited UNL sources on a number of topics in the past month. Appearances in national media included:

Amanda Fujikawa, a graduate student in Natural Resource Sciences, had her research on how decomposition of mammal carcasses affects nearby ecosystems in the Sandhills featured by Scientific American on Sept. 13.

Ray Hames, anthropology, was quoted Sept. 24 by the New York Times about the massive health study involving the Tsimane peoples in northern Bolivia.

John Hibbing, political science, spoke with the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight on Sept. 23 to discuss the state of Nebraska’s electoral map.

Michael Hoff, art and art history, had his archaeological team’s unearthing of a massive Roman mosaic in southern Turkey featured in dozens of national media outlets in mid-September. Appearances included the History Channel, Der Spiegel (Germany), the New York Times, The Associated Press, United Press International, the Christian Science Monitor, the Daily Mail (UK), The Register (UK) and NBC News.

Ann Mari May, economics, was quoted Sept. 4 by ABC News about the ‘Lipstick Effect’ during stressful economic conditions. Throughout the month, May’s research on the gender gap in policy views among economists that she co-authored with Mary McGarvey was featured in a number of national media outlets, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Bloomberg Businessweek, the Wall Street Journal and USA TODAY.

David Moshman, educational psychology, wrote a Sept. 12 opinion column for the Huffington Post about the latest version of the Guide to Free Speech on Campus by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

UNL climatologists at the National Drought Mitigation Center were quoted extensively in September as drought persisted in the continental United States. Brian Fuchs, Mark Svoboda and Michael Hayes were quoted by dozens of media outlets around the nation and world, including Reuters, The Associated Press, the Globe and Mail (Canada) and CNN.

Mario Scalora, psychology, was quoted Sept. 30 by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about red flags portending violence in the workplace, in the wake of a mass shooting in Minneapolis.

Dean Sicking, former director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, was featured Sept. 26 by the Birmingham News on whether short tracks can do without SAFER walls.

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 on potential national news stories or sources at UNL, contact Steve Smith at or 402-472-4226.

The best in the U.S. for entrepreneurship: Where does your state rank?

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

North is at the top of the map, and northern states are at the top of this year’s U.S. State Entrepreneurship Index from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Massachusetts is No. 1 in the SEI, an annual state-by-state measurement of entrepreneurial activity of all 50 states. The Bay State was followed by North Dakota, California, New York and Minnesota. Also in the Top 10 this year were Oregon, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Illinois. Texas, at No. 8, was the highest ranked southern state.

Economists at UNL’s Bureau of Business Research and Department of Economics developed the annual State Entrepreneurship Index by combining five key components – a state’s percentage growth and per capita growth of business establishments, its business formation rate, the number of patents per thousand residents and income per non-farm proprietor in each state.

The result is a comprehensive look at the levels of entrepreneurship in each state over the past year, said Eric Thompson, UNL associate professor of economics and director of the Bureau.

“To reach the top of the rankings, a state had to do very well in at least four of the five categories that made up the Index,” Thompson said. “This year, those states tend to be clustered in the Northeast and the upper Midwest. That’s not to say there is not significant action in other regions of the country, of course, but our data shows this year’s entrepreneurial activity has a definite northern flavor.”

See this year’s state-by-state rankings here.

A state index for each component is assigned based on how much each state’s performance is above or below the median of all state data, which has a value of 1.0. For example, a component one standard deviation above the median gets a value of 2.0, while a component one below is assigned a value of zero. A state’s overall SEI number is the average of the five index values.

For 2011, the latest year for data, Massachusetts’ score was 3.01, thanks to its vigor in four of the five components, including both measures of establishment growth, patent activity and income per proprietor. North Dakota (2.52), California (2.39), New York (2.23) and Minnesota (1.79) completed the top five. Minnesota advanced 18 spots from No. 24 last year on the strength of improved establishment growth and a strong business formation rate, the report showed.

North Dakota, which was ranked No. 8 last year, jumped to No. 2 thanks mainly to high rates of business formation and establishment growth. Texas (1.61) had a strong establishment growth rate and a high value for income per non-farm proprietor.

Utah was the biggest climber in the rankings, moving from No. 44 last year to No. 21 in the current list. Ohio, No. 40 last year, moved up to No. 22, while Arizona, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina and Wisconsin also posted double-digit improvements.

Nebraska (0.99), the home of the SEI, slipped seven spots from its prior ranking to No. 32.

Weighed down by sharp declines in number of establishments, Louisiana was No. 50 with an index score of 0.03 and Michigan (0.10) was No. 49. However, there were positive signs for both states – Louisiana exhibited an above-median value for income per non-farm proprietor and Michigan had an above-median value for patents per thousand residents.

South Carolina (0.19) was No. 48, behind Mississippi (0.29), Kentucky (0.30) and Hawaii (0.34). Louisiana, which soared to No. 5 in last year’s rankings, highlighted a handful of states that experienced steep drops in the current rankings. The Pelican State’s 45-spot slide led seven states that fell at least 10 spots from last year. The others were Alaska, Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Washington.

The State Entrepreneurial Index combines detailed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the IRS Statistics of Income Bulletin, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Statistical Abstract.

The year-over-year changes reflect states’ movement from last year’s final SEI rankings. In the current report, last year’s rankings were adjusted after final data in all five components was obtained and due to a new data source for one of the indicators, income per non-farm proprietor.

Some states’ positions in last year’s SEI, which used preliminary figures to calculate a portion of its components, changed when final numbers were updated.

Contact: Eric Thompson, associate professor of economics, 402-472-3318,

Coverage: CNBC | Yahoo! News | Business News Daily | The Oregonian | Boston HeraldMaui Now | Cincinnati Business Courier | Houston Business Journal | Columbus Business First | Boston Business Journal | RTT News| Birmingham Business Journal | Chicago Business Journal |