Research Spotlights: December 2018

research spotlight

A framework for predicting and quantifying stereotypes

Disparities across social groups are well known, but less is known about how people’s biases affect their treatment of others and influence social disparities. A recent report funded by NIMH and NIDA explores this area by developing a computational framework using economic and psychological approaches to predict social disparities and discrimination.

Across five studies (n = 1,294), researchers first sought to understand how people treated members from different social groups in a laboratory setting. They then built a model based on these treatment disparities and tested the model on real-world scenarios. Participants first partook in an extension of the Dictator Game, in which they unevenly appropriated money in varying amounts based on the information given (e.g., occupation, ethnicity, and age). Stereotypes were characterized based on warmth and competence and were highly predictive of how much money was given in the game. To apply this to real-world scenarios, researchers used a Canadian labor market study and a study of U.S. professors’ responses to mentoring requests. In both cases, the computational model, based on warmth and competence, predicted stereotypes in both scenarios, including the lack of call-backs based on names in the Canadian study and how professors in the United States responded to students with ethnic names.

These results emphasize the power of social stereotypes and the importance of improving the ability to predict discriminatory behavior across large populations, thus broadening opportunities to understand and address discrimination.

Jenkins AC, Karashchuk P, Zhu L, Hsu M. 2018. Predicting human behavior toward members of different social groups. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 115(39):9696–9701.

Happy childhood memories related to better health in later years

Prior research shows positive memories from childhood are related to better health in young adults, but a new NIA-funded study extends these findings to older adulthood as well.

Using data from the National Survey of Midlife Development (MIDUS; n = 7,108; Mage = 46.38, followed for 18 years) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS; n = 15,234; Mage = 67.73, followed for 6 years), researchers retrospectively analyzed childhood memories of parental support and the relation with present day physical health. Measurements included perceptions of parental affection with both mothers and fathers before age 18 (e.g., emotional support and quality of relationship), self-rated overall health and chronic conditions, and depressive symptoms characterized by the World Mental Health Composite International Diagnostic Interview—Short Form.

Participants from both studies reported better physical health and fewer depressive symptoms in later life when they had positive memories of their mothers in childhood. Similarly, those who reported more support from fathers in childhood had fewer depressive symptoms later in life, but only the HRS individuals had noted effects on physical health. However, correlations between positive parental memories and fewer chronic conditions were only evident in the MIDUS sample. Maternal affection associations were stronger than those of fathers and may reflect generational differences in child caregiving.

Positive childhood memories of relationships with both parents appear to have beneficial effects on health far beyond young adulthood and reflect the permeance of memories on health.

Chopik WJ, Edelstein RS. 2018. Retrospective memories of parental care and health from mid- to late life. Health Psychol. doi: 10.1037/hea0000694 Epub ahead of print.

Telephone support helps maintain reduced sugary beverage intake

Maintenance of behavior change after intervention presents significant challenges. Using automated and live telephone support, researchers were able to maintain reduced sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) intake in a rural community, according to a recent NCI-funded study.

This study followed participants in rural Virginia after completion of a 6-month trial (SIPsmartER) to reduce SSB intake (n = 235). Participants were randomized to receive monthly telephone calls over 12 months of an interactive voice response (IVR), human-delivered support, or IVR without behavioral support (control). Following monthly calls, beverage intake, weight, BMI, and quality of life were assessed.

After completion of SIPsmartER and post-program maintenance, significant reductions in SSB intake were maintained, and there were no changes in weight, BMI, and quality of life. These results suggest that behavior change was sustained 1-year post-intervention. Specifically, IVR produced the greatest reductions in SSB during maintenance compared to IVR controls (–98 SSB kcals/day), but the human-delivered behavioral support was not significantly different from either the IVR or IVR control groups. The costs for both IVR and human-delivered support did not differ.

The results here suggest IVR may be an efficient and scalable tool for maintaining behavior change after interventions, particularly in rural areas that may be hard to reach.

Zoellner JM, You W, Estabrooks PA, Chen Y, Davy BM, Porter KJ, Hedrick VE, Bailey A, Kružliaková N. 2018. Supporting maintenance of sugar-sweetened beverage reduction using automated versus live telephone support: Findings from a randomized control trial. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 15(1):97.