Fall 2008 Awards

Testing the Two Systems Theory of Anomalous Preferences
Daniel J. Benjamin, Department of Economics
Sebastian A. Brown, Harvard
Jesse M. Shapiro, University of Chicago

Paying for Climate Change: The Role of Information and Social Preferences on Willingness to Pay
Antonio M. Bento, Department of Applied Economics and Management
Benjamin Ho, Johnson Graduate School of Management

Grandparent-Grandchild Interactions in Custodial Grandparent Families
Rachel Dunifon, Department of Policy Analysis and Management
Kimberly Kopko, Department of Policy analysis and Management
Karl Pillemer, Department of Human Development

Accumulating Insecurity, Securing Accumulation: A Conference on Militarizing Everyday Life
Shelley Feldman, Department of Development Sociology
Charles Geisler, Department of Development Sociology
Gayatri Menon, Department of Development Sociology

The Implicit Operation of Ideology
Melissa Ferguson, Department of Psychology

Mobile Social Networking in Urban Environments 
Lee Humphreys, Department of Communication

The World Food Crisis: Event or Conjuncture? (April 3-4, 2008)
Philip McMichael, Department of Development Sociology

Health and Early Childhood Television and Video Viewing
Sean Nicholson, Department of Policy Analysis and Management
Michael Waldman, Johnson Graduate School of Management

Using Personal Stories to Raise Support for Social Policies to Reduce Obesity Rates
Jeff Niederdeppe, Department of Communication
Michael A. Shapiro, Department of Communication

Developmental Origins of Childhood Attention Problems
Stephen S. Robertson, Department of Human Development
John Guckenheimer, Departments of Mathematics and Theoretical & Applied Mechanics

Authoritarian Domestic Political Institutions and International Conflict
Jessica Weeks, Department of Government

Testing the Two Systems Theory of Anomalous Preferences
Daniel J. Benjamin, Department of Economics, Sebastian A. Brown, and Jesse M. Shapiro, University of Chicago

Recent theories in behavioral economics posit that certain fundamental preferences result from the interaction of two systems within the brain. In particular, while the emotional system wants to indulge immediate gratification and to resist taking (even prudent) small-scale risks, the deliberative system can override these desires by exerting cognitive resources. We will test this class of theories. In existing work, we have shown that short-run discounting and small-stakes risk aversion are less common among individuals with greater measured cognitive skills, consistent with the two-systems theories. This study will more convincingly demonstrate a causal effect of cognitive resources on time and risk preferences. By requiring subjects to rehearse a list of names (“cognitive load”), we will experimentally reduce cognitive resources available for decision making. By requiring subjects to give reasons for their choices, we will cause subjects to increase the cognitive resources they apply to their decisions. We will test the prediction that increasing cognitive resources will lead to more patient and less risk-averse behavior, while reducing cognitive resources will have the opposite effect. This project is a first step in a larger research agenda on the role of cognition in economic decision-making.

Update: This project ran a large-scale experiment to study the effect of cognitive load on economic preferences on 349 subjects. Preliminary results appear to support dual process models, with cognitive load causing people to make less patient and more risk averse choices, yet the data must still be analyzed more thoroughly. A working paper is being developed for publication in an economics journal.

Paying for Climate Change: The Role of Information and Social Preferences on Willingness to Pay
Antonio M. Bento, Department of Applied Economics and Management and Benjamin Ho, Johnson Graduate School of Management

A growing literature has consistently found that people care about climate change and that they are willing to pay to mitigate its effects. However, prior studies primarily relied on hypothetical methods, and have ignored at least two important political realities: 1) implementing any policy to address climate change depends not only on individual preferences but also on how those preferences are aggregated in an election; 2) how the policy is structured – e.g. how costs are distributed – affects voter preferences. In this project, we use an incentive-compatible experimental design using carbon offsets to elicit voter preferences over alternative policies to mitigate the effects of climate change, and seek to understand how factors such as fairness, social norms, and social information affect choices.

Update: This project led to the development of the paper entitled “Do Cold Prickles induce Warm Glows: Culpability and Willingness to Pay to Reduce Negative Externalities,” which was published in November, 2010. Further research done by Bento is discussed here, 2013 ISS’ Faculty Fellow and Fall 2008 Small Grant Awardee, Antonio Bento, Examines Solo Hybrid Drivers in Carpool Lanes (2014).

Grandparent-Grandchild Interactions in Custodial Grandparent Families
Rachel Dunifon, Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Kimberly Kopko, Department of Policy analysis and Management, and Karl Pillemer, Department of Human Development

For many children, being raised by a grandparent serves as an alternative to foster care. However, very little is known about what life is really like for these families. The goal of this project is to gather new information on families in which grandparents are raising their adolescent grandchildren. We will develop and test a data collection tool and then use it to measure previously unknown aspects of the grandparent-grandchild relationship, including family routines and the household environment. The results of this study will be useful to both practitioners and policymakers working with custodial grandparent families.

Updates: (2010) This project focused on teenagers being raised by their grandparents. The research involved collecting detailed multi-method data from 59 pairs of grandparents and the teenagers they are raising throughout New York. Preliminary findings concerning the children who were living with their grandparents at age five and are now fifteen include: 80% of the youth have siblings living outside of the household, 51% of the youth have some kind of health condition that limits their activities or requires medication, and many youth have some kind of attention deficit disorder. A paper from this project will be presented at the American Psychological Association once all data is analyzed. Additional funding of $120,000 has been awarded by the USDA Hatch Funding to help further this research. Press coverage includes: ISS’ Family Project’s Faculty Fellow, Rachel Dunifon, Shares Wisdom with Parenting Educators (2014).

Accumulating Insecurity, Securing Accumulation: A Conference on Militarizing Everyday Life
Shelley Feldman, Department of Development Sociology, Charles Geisler, Department of Development Sociology and Gayatri Menon, Department of Development Sociology

There is growing consensus that today’s world is in dire social and economic crisis. Increasing numbers of people are vulnerable to dearth and death as their grip on social reproduction is unsettled. Yet, despite the fact that more people face morbidity and mortality through deprivation than from battlefield encounters, public attention continues to rivet on the body counts and body bags from military conflicts and state leaders seem oblivious to the multi-faceted “war at home” that renders vast populations materially and politically insecure. In this project we will develop a conference in April 2009 that brings together scholars who will have participated in two workshops in the fall, 2008 at Cornell. The conference will integrate and showcase papers produced in the preceding workshops and will provide the chapters for an integrated book project. This work will elaborate the conditions that generate everyday security measures of the Homeland Security State, the insecurities this fosters, and the ties between military security and social reproduction in the contemporary moment. We emphasize the distortions and impediments to social reproduction resulting from stockpiling arms, military engagements, and the open-ended war on terrorism. We explore the overtones of accumulation and capitalist modernity. Most importantly, we suggest that armed conflict abroad distracts attention from the embedding processes of military culture, lifestyle, and imagery in our everyday domestic lives. We anticipate developing this as an ISS theme project in the coming year.

Update: This conference was recognized as a successfully generated a conversation around political exclusion and alienation in the contemporary social order. It resulted in the article “Scholars to Address ‘Militarizing Everyday Life,” published in April, 2009. More details on the conference itself can be found in the 2009 Conference Program.

The Implicit Operation of Ideology
Melissa Ferguson, Department of Psychology

Recent findings show that ideological knowledge can be activated from people’s memory without their awareness or intention and subsequently influence their decisions, attitudes, and voting behavior (Ferguson & Hassin, 2007; Hassin, Ferguson, Shidlovsky, & Gross, 2007). The objective of this project is to collect preliminary support for a new model that explains how, why, and when such effects emerge. This work represents the first social-cognitive psychological analysis of how ideologies operate implicitly, and aims to ultimately provide an empirical test of the long standing assumption in the social sciences that ideologies serve as nonconscious “blueprints” for behavior across political, economic, social, and cultural spheres. I will be able to conduct preliminary investigations of these ideas, with the end objective being a multi-disciplinary, collaborative research grant submission to a federal grant agency, as well as a submission as an ISS theme project.

Update: The findings of this research were published in the article “Study: Setting eyes on Old Glory moves voters toward GOP,” (2011). Other press coverage includes: ISS’ Small Grant PI, Melissa Ferguson, Finds Secret Keeping Exhausting (2013), CIE faculty fellow Melissa Ferguson shows that first impressions can be reversed (2015).

Mobile Social Networking in Urban Environments 
Lee Humphreys, Department of Communication

This project explores the use of mobile social networks in urban environments. Mobile social networks are services developed for mobile phones that facilitate communication and social interaction between networks of users. Thus far funding has been secured for two of three case studies. Exploratory in-depth interviews and fieldwork are proposed to identify the key issues with GPS-based mobile social networks. This project will help to develop knowledge about how and why people use mobile social networks to interact in urban environments in their everyday lives. This will also help to complete the final case study for a book project.

Update: This research culminated in the article “Mobile Social Networks and Urban Public Space,” which was published in New Media Society in February, 2010. Other press coverage includes: “Checking in on Foursquare can make new friends.”

The World Food Crisis: Event or Conjuncture? (April 3-4, 2008)
Philip McMichael, Department of Development Sociology

In June, 2008, the Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organization responded to a perceived world food crisis, by convening a High Level Conference on World Food Security in June 2008, following similar food summits in 1996 and 1974 at similar moments of concern. This project will develop an open Cornell conference to examine the current food crisis historically, considering its genealogy in the politics of food security and its relation to development policies over the past half century. Presenters will be asked to examine the food crisis from a number of perspectives, in order to situate it within the trajectory of the industrial age, the development project, the construction of a ‘world agriculture,’ and future sustainable possibilities. Conference papers will be published either as an edited collection, or as a special journal issue; and in addition, this conference will enable Cornell faculty to explore the possibility of developing an ISS theme project for the future.

Update: This project led to the development of the article “The World Food Crisis in Historical Perspective,” which was published in the Monthly Review in July, 2009.

Health and Early Childhood Television and Video Viewing
Sean Nicholson, Department of Policy Analysis and Management and Michael Waldman, Johnson Graduate School of Management

Recent research in the pediatrics literature finds significant evidence that early childhood media usage is associated with negative health outcomes. The drawback of much of this work, however, is that the studies typically show correlations but do not demonstrate causation. In “Does Television Cause Autism?” we show how natural experiments can be used to investigate the relationship between media and childhood health using statistical techniques that are not subject to the reverse causation problem. We plan to continue our work on this topic and we are requesting funding that would be used mostly for data collection, data acquisition, and research assistance.

Update: This project focused on time use data from the 1997 PSID survey, and utilized this data to examine whether children under the age of three watched more television if they lived in a county with relatively high cable penetration. This research concluded that a young child did indeed watch about an extra 30 minutes of TV per day if they lived in county where all households subscribed to cable relative to a county where no household subscribed to cable (this comparison is analogous to the effect if a household signed up for cable). This project was used to develop the paper “Positive and Negative Mental Health Consequences of Early Childhood Television Watching,” which was published in the National Bureau of Economic Research in January, 2012.

Using Personal Stories to Raise Support for Social Policies to Reduce Obesity Rates
Jeff Niederdeppe, Department of Communication and Michael A. Shapiro, Department of Communication

This project will advance research on message strategies to advance social policies that reduce rates of obesity in the United States. To date, no studies have tested the effects of personal stories highlighting societal causes for obesity on attributions of responsibility for causing and addressing the obesity epidemic. Societal attributions of responsibility drive support for policies to address social problems. This project seeks a greater understanding of how and when personal stories can influence attributions of responsibility for obesity and thus generate support for policies to address the problem. We will develop a randomized, controlled experiment to test whether a personal story that emphasizes environmental barriers to healthy eating and active living can increase societal attributions of responsibility for obesity relative to a control group and a standard summary of research evidence. Study findings will aid the continued development of a broader research program to assess the role of strategic messages in gaining support for health policy by providing pilot data for larger-scale funding proposals.

Update: This research was published in the article “Using Personal Stories to Raise Support for Social Policies to Reduce Obesity Rates” on the Cornell University Risk Communication Research Group site in 2009. Press coverage includes, Americans Oppose Soda Tax (March 2014), ISS’ Small Grant Awardee, Jeff Niederdeppe, Part of Survey Yielding Creative Childhood Obesity Solutions (April 2014), ISS Small Grant Award Winners Byrne and Niederdeppe Receive $3M Grant to Study Tobacco Warnings (July 2014), Like the flu shot, message inoculation won’t last forever (October 2014), and Three ISS Fellows Help Expectant Moms (February 2015).

Developmental Origins of Childhood Attention Problems
Stephen S. Robertson, Department of Human Development and John Guckenheimer, Departments of Mathematics and Theoretical & Applied Mechanics

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most prevalent neuropsychiatric disorder in US children; understanding ADHD is a serious challenge to interdisciplinary science. This project will support our preliminary work on the dynamics of infant attention and the risk of later attention problems, work that integrates approaches from developmental psychology, neuroscience, and applied mathematics. This work has two aims. Aim 1: Test our mathematical model of infant visual attention. We have recently developed a dynamical model to account for the visual foraging behavior of very young infants; it will be tested with older infants whose visual system and behavior have passed important maturational milestones. The results will significantly strengthen the theoretical basis for our focus on thedynamics of body movement and attention across all aspects of our research program, both basic and applied. Aim 2: Validate our new method for measuring attention in infants. We have recently developed a new method for measuring changes in attention that combines simultaneous recording of gaze and brain activity. Validation of the method will allow us to study the dynamics of infant attention without making the risky assumptions required by traditional methods. It will also permit a more compelling analysis of links with later attention problems. This project will provide key preliminary results for an NIH grant application to study the mechanisms and functional significance of infant visual foraging behavior and Its link to later attention problems.

Update: In regard to the first aim, this project completed the test of our dynamical model of visual attention on 3-month-old infants, which significantly strengthened the theoretical basis for focus on the dynamics of body movement and attention across all aspects of our research program. In order to validate the new method, this project involved a completed the experiment designed to validate our new method for measuring changes in attention that combined simultaneous recording of gaze and brain activity, which produced a more compelling analysis of links between the coupling of movement and attention in infancy and attention problems in childhood. This research led to a number of different articles, including one entitled “Attentional modulation of the amplitude and phase of steady-state visual evoked potentials (SSVEP) in infants.” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May, 2012.

Authoritarian Domestic Political Institutions and International Conflict
Jessica Weeks, Department of Government

While much previous scholarship has analyzed how democracies and non-democracies differ in their propensity for international conflict, almost no research has analyzed how different authoritarian institutions affect international behavior. This is partly due to a lack of systematic cross-national, longitudinal data on domestic political institutions in authoritarian regimes. This proposal seeks funding for the first stage of a large-scale data collection effort that will remedy this gap.

Update: This project aimed to generate a dataset of authoritarian regime characteristics for all authoritarian war participants from 1919-1995. This process has resulted in the discovery of substantial differences in the conflict behavior of these various authoritarian regime types. This research has led to a series of papers which have been presented at various forums including the American Political Science Association conference and Yale University.