Friday, March 26, 2021

STEM education: Compared with the US, students in China, India & Russia do not gain critical thinking skills over 4 years; & while students in India & Russia gain academic skills during the first 2 years, students in China do not

Skill levels and gains in university STEM education in China, India, Russia and the United States. Prashant Loyalka, Ou Lydia Liu, Guirong Li, Elena Kardanova, Igor Chirikov, Shangfeng Hu, Ningning Yu, Liping Ma, Fei Guo, Tara Beteille, Namrata Tognatta, Lin Gu, Guangming Ling, Denis Federiakin, Huan Wang, Saurabh Khanna, Ashutosh Bhuradia, Zhaolei Shi & Yanyan Li. Nature Human Behaviour, Mar 1 2021.

Abstract: Universities contribute to economic growth and national competitiveness by equipping students with higher-order thinking and academic skills. Despite large investments in university science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, little is known about how the skills of STEM undergraduates compare across countries and by institutional selectivity. Here, we provide direct evidence on these issues by collecting and analysing longitudinal data on tens of thousands of computer science and electrical engineering students in China, India, Russia and the United States. We find stark differences in skill levels and gains among countries and by institutional selectivity. Compared with the United States, students in China, India and Russia do not gain critical thinking skills over four years. Furthermore, while students in India and Russia gain academic skills during the first two years, students in China do not. These gaps in skill levels and gains provide insights into the global competitiveness of STEM university students across nations and institutional types.

Belgian representative sample: Young adults 16 - 24 years are twice as likely to be victimized in their lifetimes & more than three times more likely in the past 12 months compared to adults aged 50 - 69 years

Schapansky, Evelyn, Joke Depraetere, Ines Keygnaert, and Christophe Vandeviver. 2020. “Prevalence and risk factors of sexual victimization: Findinds from a national representative sample of belgian adults aged 16-69.” SocArXiv. September 29. doi:10.31235/


Background: Sexual victimization is a major public health, judicial and societal concern worldwide. Prevalence studies on sexual victimization have mostly focused on female and student samples. Overall, nationally representative and comparable studies are still lacking.

Methods: We applied a broad definition of sexual violence, including hands-off and hands-on victimization, and behaviorally specific questions to assess sexual victimization. Prevalence estimates were obtained after weighting the sample according to the population proportions of men and women in three age groups. The data provide nationally representative lifetime and 12-month prevalence estimates. We further conducted logistic regression to estimate adjusted odds ratios to examine the relationship between demographic, socioeconomic, and sexuality-related variables with the likelihood of being victimized.

Results: These estimates indicate that 64.1% (95% CI: 61.9-66.1) of the general population in Belgium experienced some form of sexual victimization in their lives, and 44.1% (95% CI: 41.9-46.2) experienced some form of sexual victimization in the past 12 months. Logistic regression analysis shows that women are more than five times more likely to be victimized in their lifetimes than men (aOR = 4.96, 95% CI: 4.02-6.14), with an overall prevalence estimate of 80.8% (95% CI: 78.3-83.1). Young adults between 16 and 24 years are twice as likely to be victimized in their lifetimes (aOR = 2.13, 95% CI: 1.36-3.35) and more than three times more likely in the past 12 months (aOR = 3.52, 95% CI: 2.82-4.18) compared to adults aged 50 to 69 years. Prevalence estimates for all forms of sexual victimization are presented and compared to other national and international studies on sexual victimization.

Conclusion: This comparison suggests that prevalence rates have been underestimated . The prevalence estimates obtained in this study demonstrate that all sexes and ages are affected by sexual victimization.

Women are more liberal and more conservative than men at the same time

Gender Differences in Social and Political Attitudes: It’s Protection versus Freedom, not Liberalism versus Conservatism. Gerhard Meisenberg. Mankind Quarterly, Volume 61, No. 3, Mar 1 2021. DOI 10.46469/mq.2021.61.3.10

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Thiss study examines sex differences in socio-political attitudes in the United States using the General Social Survey (GSS). It solves the seeming paradox that women have been described as both more religious and more liberal than men. The results indicate that women are indeed more religious than men and more socially conservative in many respects as indicated by earlier research in the United States and elsewhere. However, they are also more “economically liberal” in the US sense of favoring more social expenditures by the government. The observed differences do not fit the present political alignments of the United States. They rather indicate that women more than men are concerned about protecting people from economic hardship, from threats emerging from “non-standard” beliefs and worldviews, and from the darker side of their own nature. The sex differences can be described as lying on a protection versus freedom dimension, similar to what has been described for political alignments in many non-Western countries. At the level of specific issues, most sex differences have remained quite stable from the 1970s to the 2010s.

Challenging the Link Between Early Childhood Television Exposure and Later Attention Problems

Challenging the Link Between Early Childhood Television Exposure and Later Attention Problems: A Multiverse Approach. Matthew T. McBee, Rebecca J. Brand, Wallace E. Dixon, Jr. Psychological Science, March 25, 2021.

Abstract: In 2004, Christakis and colleagues published an article in which they claimed that early childhood television exposure causes later attention problems, a claim that continues to be frequently promoted by the popular media. Using the same National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 data set (N = 2,108), we conducted two multiverse analyses to examine whether the finding reported by Christakis and colleagues was robust to different analytic choices. We evaluated 848 models, including logistic regression models, linear regression models, and two forms of propensity-score analysis. If the claim were true, we would expect most of the justifiable analyses to produce significant results in the predicted direction. However, only 166 models (19.6%) yielded a statistically significant relationship, and most of these employed questionable analytic choices. We concluded that these data do not provide compelling evidence of a harmful effect of TV exposure on attention.

Keywords: media, TV, ADHD, attention development, multiverse analysis, computational reproducibility, garden of forking paths, open data, open materials

Collectively, our results reveal spatially covarying transcriptomic and cognitive architectures, highlighting the influence that molecular mechanisms exert on psychological processes

Mapping gene transcription and neurocognition across human neocortex. Justine Y. Hansen, Ross D. Markello, Jacob W. Vogel, Jakob Seidlitz, Danilo Bzdok & Bratislav Misic. Nature Human Behaviour, Mar 25 2021.

Abstract: Regulation of gene expression drives protein interactions that govern synaptic wiring and neuronal activity. The resulting coordinated activity among neuronal populations supports complex psychological processes, yet how gene expression shapes cognition and emotion remains unknown. Here, we directly bridge the microscale and macroscale by mapping gene expression patterns to functional activation patterns across the cortical sheet. Applying unsupervised learning to the Allen Human Brain Atlas and Neurosynth databases, we identify a ventromedial–dorsolateral gradient of gene assemblies that separate affective and perceptual domains. This topographic molecular-psychological signature reflects the hierarchical organization of the neocortex, including systematic variations in cell type, myeloarchitecture, laminar differentiation and intrinsic network affiliation. In addition, this molecular-psychological signature strengthens over neurodevelopment and can be replicated in two independent repositories. Collectively, our results reveal spatially covarying transcriptomic and cognitive architectures, highlighting the influence that molecular mechanisms exert on psychological processes.

Who Likes What Kind of News? It appears that men have higher interest in news categories characterized by competition aspects

Who Likes What Kind of News? The Relationship Between Characteristics of Media Consumers and News Interest. Kai Kaspar, Lisa Anna Marie Fuchs. SAGE Open, March 25, 2021.

Abstract: Stimulated by the uses-and-gratification approach, this study examined the joint relation of several consumer characteristics to news interest. In total, 1,546 German-speaking participants rated their interest in 15 major news categories and several personal characteristics, including gender, age, the Big Five personality traits, self-esteem, as well as general positive and negative affect. Regression analyses examined the amount of interindividual variance in news interest that can be explained by this set of consumer characteristics. Overall, the amount of explained variance differed remarkably across news categories, ranging from 4% for entertainment-related news to 25% for news about technology. The most powerful explaining variables were participants’ gender, age, openness to experiences, and their amount of general positive affect. The results suggest that news interest should be defined and operationalized as a concept with multiple facets covering a huge range of content. Also, the results are important for media producers and journalists with respect to the conflict between increased need gratification of consumers and information filtering via personalized news content.

Keywords: mass media, news interest, uses-and-gratification, Big Five, self-esteem, general affect

We examined the relation between several consumer characteristics and people’s interest in 15 different news categories. We found that participants’ gender showed the strongest relation to their interest in many news categories (H1). Men reported more interest in news about economy, technology, science, politics, and sports. In contrast, women were more interested in news about health, nutrition, fashion, crime, accidents and disasters, entertainment, environment, traveling, and culture. Although each of these categories is very broad and covers a huge range of subthemes in general, it appears that men have higher interest in news categories characterized by competition aspects. Men’s higher propensity to enjoy competition has been extensively discussed in the literature (e.g., Gneezy & Rustichini, 2004) and it is discussed in the light of socialization, whereby this gender bias does not appear to be universal but contingent on environmental factors (e.g., Gneezy et al., 2009). In Western culture, men opt to compete more often than women (Gneezy et al., 2009). In this sense, the present results found for a sample of German-speaking participants in Europe are limited regarding their generalizability to other cultural environments. Nonetheless, gender apparently plays a central role when it comes to news preferences.

Age also showed significant relations to news interest (H2), but the direction of the relation depended on the specific news category. In accordance with the core assumption of the Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (Mather & Carstensen, 2005), increasing age was associated with a positivity bias, indicated by a decreased interest in crime as well as accidents and disasters. Also, and in accordance with the Socioemotional Selectivity Theory, increasing age was negatively related to participants’ interest in news that addresses the exploration of new horizons and information about new societal trends, namely fashion, traveling, and career. In addition, age was positively related to interest in economy, politics, and culture. However, and surprisingly, participants’ interest in entertainment-related news was negatively related to their age. While such news may be light and thus conducive to a positive mood, a substantial amount of this type of news is about celebrities and popular culture (cf., Gow et al., 2012). Such issues are likely to be of less interest to older people. To conclude, people do not show a generalized positivity bias with increasing age, but the configuration of their interests apparently changes with age.

The Big Five personality traits were differently influential (RQ1): While extraversion showed a relatively weak relation to news interest across all categories, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness showed more pronounced relations with varying signs across categories. Neuroticism was negatively related to news about economy, technology, and politics, but neuroticism was positively related to news about entertainment, health, nutrition, crime, as well as accidents and disasters. Hence, participants high in neuroticism reported to be less interested in news that primarily addresses societal topics on a large scale, but they were more inclined to consume news about topics that may have a more direct utility for the individual consumer. In this context, the positive relation between neuroticism and interest in news about crime as well as accidents and disasters may indicate that individuals high in neuroticism want to feel prepared to actively avert potential risks. Openness showed a negative relation to participants’ interest in news about entertainment, sports, crime, career, as well as accidents and disasters, but openness was positively related to interest in news about health, technology, politics, science, environment, nutrition, traveling, and culture. Overall, openness was the most powerful independent variable besides participants’ age, gender, and amount of general positive affect. Agreeableness was mainly negatively related to news interest. This was the case for news about economy, technology, science, and career. Only one positive relation could be observed regarding news about traveling. On a more general level, it seems that increasing agreeableness is negatively associated with the interest in domains usually characterized by competitive processes. This motivational tendency is in line with the definition of agreeableness as being trusting, sympathetic, and selfless (McCrae & Costa, 2003). Finally, conscientiousness showed a positive relation to interest in news about economy, health, sports, crime, and career, but a negative relation to news about culture. These results match well with previous findings according to which conscientiousness is positively related to different facets of health behavior (Chuah et al., 2006), job performance (Barrick & Mount, 1991), but negatively related to deviant behavior (Farhadi et al., 2012) and interest in modern art, as one part of culture (Furnham, Chamorro-Premuzic, 2004). To sum up, the present results regarding the Big Five personality traits complement previous research that has already uncovered correlations between these traits and different domains of vocational interests (Larson et al., 2002). Apparently, news interests are also strongly linked to the Big Five personality traits.

Self-esteem, in contrast, was a weak independent variable across all 15 news categories (H3). Participants with a lower (vs. higher) self-esteem reported an increased interest in news about culture only by trend and they did not report a significantly increased interest in politics. Also, the expected positive relation between self-esteem and achievement/performance-related topics, namely economy and sports, was not found. Thus, our data do not support the findings of Knobloch-Westerwick et al. (2006) and Knobloch-Westerwick and Alter (2007) who found that participants characterized by low trait self-esteem spent more time reading news stories covering social and interpersonal topics, whereas participants characterized by high self-esteem read longer about topics addressing achievement and performance aspects. This difference might be explained by methodological differences, as Knobloch-Westerwick et al. (2006) and Knobloch-Westerwick and Alter (2007) examined the real exposure time to self-selected news articles, whereas we asked participants to report their general interest in news belonging to different categories. A potential moderating role of the sample type is also conceivable: Although Knobloch-Westerwick et al. (2006) exclusively examined German university students, the link to the present online study was broadly disseminated across numerous social networking sites and German mailing lists. This procedure may have led to a more heterogeneous sample, although the mean score and standard deviation of the self-esteem ratings (same instrument) was comparable across samples (Knobloch-Westerwick et al., 2006M = 2.21, SD = 0.46; present study: M = 2.16, SD = 0.58). Future research might address the role of self-esteem in more detail by examining potential moderators and the effect of situational factors. However, we can resume that self-esteem, when being examined in combination with further consumer characteristics, seems to be a relatively weak contributor to news interest.

In contrast, participants’ amount of general positive affect showed a strong relation to interest in many news categories (RQ2). Thereby, positive affect was always positively related to interest in news about economy, entertainment, sports, technology, science, environment, nutrition, traveling, and career. Negative affect only showed a positive relation to news about technology and a negative relation to news about the environment. In a nutshell, these results may indicate a significant role of emotion regulation effects associated with news consumption, as already suggested by studies that focused on the relationship between one’s current mood state and preferences for specific media content (e.g., Biswas et al., 1994Kaspar, Gameiro, & König, 2015Knobloch-Westerwick, 2007).

Limitations and Implications for Future Research and Practice

In this study, consumer characteristics explained a significant amount of interindividual variance in people’s general news interest. However, the amount of explained variance in news interest differed remarkably across categories, ranging from only 4% for entertainment-related news to 23% for news about culture and 25% for news about technology. This result suggests, on one hand, that news interest should be defined and operationalized as a concept with multiple facets that covers a huge range of qualitatively different content. On the other hand, it indicates that people’s news interest in some domains may be more susceptible to situational factors not considered here, whereas other domain-specific interests can be fairly explained by a rather small set of relatively stable and time-invariant consumer characteristics. For example, one’s interest in news about health and politics may be strongly influenced by the current global pandemic due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) (cf., Cucinotta & Vanelli, 2020). It is conceivable that such a dramatic event of high personal relevance attenuates the role of other consumer characteristics. Also, the amount of health-related news in mass media has recently changed dramatically due to the global pandemic, so that salient news coverage may act as a moderator of the relationship between consumer characteristics and news interest in terms of agenda setting effects (cf., Wanta & Ghanem, 2007). Another line of research emphasizes the significant role of the framing of a news story on consumers’ news interest (Kaspar et al., 2016), the role of the motivational valence of a news article’s content and the effect of color cues on news interest (Kaspar et al., 2017), and the effect of font type on news interest (Kaspar, Wehlitz, et al., 2015). However, these studies did not consider individual differences in consumers’ characteristics. Thus, to get a more complete picture, future studies should expand the focus on potential moderators, including situational factors, consumers’ cultural background, news framing, news valence, and visual properties of news presentation.

What do the present results mean for research focusing on the U&G approach? First of all, as highlighted by Kaspar and Müller-Jensen (2019), we must recognize that U&G “is not a homogeneous theory but rather a collective term for many theoretical models varying in complexity and conceptual nuances” (p. 1). Twenty years ago, Ruggiero (2000) already provided a comprehensive overview of the historical development of the U&G approach and suggested that future models must include concepts associated with new media and forms of computer-mediated communication in the digital age, such as interactivity and asynchroneity in the communication process. Similarly, Rubin (2009) emphasized the role of changes in technology for the development of contemporary U&G models. In contrast, this study focused on a classic form of mass media (news) not characterized by high interactivity or asynchronous interpersonal communication processes. Nonetheless, the present results indicate at least three implications for theory development: First, the U&G approach stresses the notion of an active audience selecting media content to fulfill certain needs. Given that news is not a unidimensional but multifaceted concept covering very different types of content, the societal and personal needs underlying the specific news preferences may vary a lot. Hence, U&G research should not only consider technological constraints of specific media but also nuances of the media format and its content. Second, although the role of individual predispositions for media use have already been examined and discussed in the context of U&G research (cf., Rubin, 2009), the role of rather situation-invariant personality traits has been neglected so far. Indeed, U&G models usually focus on needs and motives as well as associated gratifications sought (cf., Rayburn & Palmgreen, 1984), while an elaborated link to personality is still missing; current research in the field of personality aims to address this issue (e.g., Dweck, 2017). Third, from a methodological viewpoint, research on U&G is based on the assumption that media users can provide accurate self-reports of their needs and motives driving media selection. Many studies in this field apply interview and survey techniques to detect those motives influencing media choice (e.g., Park et al., 2009). However, given that personality traits as well as affect showed relationships to news preferences in this study, the question arises to what extent users can be aware of the influence of these factors on media selection, whereby a causal influence also remains to be shown. For example, Reinecke (2017) pointed out that, while the U&G approach assumes that media selection processes are rational and consciousness, “mood management theory assumes that media users may but do not necessarily have to be cognizant of the motivational processes driving their selective exposure to media content” (p. 2). In the light of the present results, it seems fruitful to overcome this speculative distinction to broaden the perspective to all those processes and variables that may affect media selection.

Another aspect to be mentioned is the fact that this study was solely based on participants’ reports about their news interest. In general, there is a long controversy about the (in)consistency between attitudes and behavior (e.g., Gross & Niman, 1975Liska, 1974). With respect to media use, the examination of real behavior outside the laboratory is a challenging task. Weaver et al. (1993) examined the relationship between personality and movie preferences and have already concluded that

while the data at hand demonstrate that personality and attitudes toward particular media content themes are interrelated, evidence that actual media use behaviors (e.g., medium and content selection, time spent consuming) are consistent with the observed personality-preference patterns remains a promising avenue for future research. (p. 313)

Many studies in the field are actually based on self-reports (e.g., Kraaykamp & Van Eijck, 2005), but tracking of media selection and consumption processes has already successfully applied (e.g., Knobloch-Westerwick & Alter, 2007), whereby people’s awareness of behavioral tracking usually elicit information privacy concerns and affect use motivation (e.g., Kaspar, 2020Ketelaar & Van Balen, 2018). However, Jones-Jang et al. (2020) recently found promising results when comparing self-reported and logged data of smartphone use over 7 days. Effect sizes of correlations based on self-report data tended to be smaller compared to effect sizes based on logged data. The authors concluded that “this could mean that extant survey results have not erroneously inflated communication findings” (Jones-Jang et al., 2020, p. 1). Nonetheless, with respect to research on news preferences and selection processes, methods that allow the collection of valid data and, at the same time, preserve the privacy of media users as best as possible would be highly desirable.

Research on news interest would also benefit from a validated catalog of criteria that helps to categorize news topics. Although this study referred to categories already used in previous research as well as in current media, the typology appears to be a bit arbitrary and some of the categories are rather broad, reducing their discriminatory power. A promising avenue for future research might be a combination of an analysis of news content and an analysis of the cognitive framework consumers use to classify and process news content, similar to the methodology applied in research on framing effects (cf., Entman, 1993).

Also, it should be noted that media producers may tailor news agendas to individual consumers on the basis of few personal and demographic data. The present results indicate that this might be possible, at least for some news categories. This possibility emphasizes the need for transparency in news production and dissemination processes and indicates the critical potential of echo chambers encircling individual consumers. Although consumers’ selective exposure to specific news content is not a new phenomenon (cf., Cotton & Hieser, 1980), the emergence of so-called filter bubbles and echo chambers is a highly relevant phenomenon in the era of online news (e.g., Flaxman et al., 2016Garrett, 2009). Kaspar and Müller-Jensen (2019) recently emphasized that with respect to Facebook as an information source, the variety of perceived information is not only reduced due to users’ own selective seeking behavior, because “prioritized information is selectively assigned to the users’ individual news feed by Facebook’s algorithms” (p. 10). In fact, this critical role of algorithms is not limited to Facebook as it is a general attribute of current search engines and social media. In offline media, the agenda of a newspaper or television program is set by human producers and journalists. This also leads to a selective arrangement of the presented news, but such rather traditional media do not adjust content to each individual consumer but only to a larger group of potential recipients sharing similar interests and characteristics. Hence, the risk of creating filter bubbles is omnipresent but appears to be higher in the context of computer-mediated news. However, in more positive terms, a better knowledge about information preferences of individual consumers may also help to create more interesting news offers and, as a consequence, to better satisfy personal needs and to increase perceived gratification in terms of the U&G approach. In this sense, producers and journalists should be very sensitive toward this conflict between need gratification and information filtering by means of agenda setting processes.

Authoritarian family types are, against Todd's predictions, linked to increased levels of the rule of law & innovation; communitarian family types are linked to racism, low levels of the rule of law, & late industrialization, as predicted

Gutmann, J., & Voigt, S. (2021). Testing Todd: Family types and development. Journal of Institutional Economics, 1-18.

Abstract: Many years ago, Emmanuel Todd came up with a classification of family types and argued that the historically prevalent family types in a society have important consequences for its economic, political, and social development. Here, we evaluate Todd's most important predictions empirically. Relying on a parsimonious model with exogenous covariates, we find mixed results. On the one hand, authoritarian family types are, in stark contrast to Todd's predictions, associated with increased levels of the rule of law and innovation. On the other hand, and in line with Todd's expectations, communitarian family types are linked to racism, low levels of the rule of law, and late industrialization. Countries in which endogamy is frequently practiced also display an expectedly high level of state fragility and weak civil society organizations.