Spring 2007 Awards

Cohort Highlight: Institute for the Social Sciences Awards 12 New Small Grants

Expected Utility Theory Through the Lens of Insurance Data
Levon Barseghyan, Department of Economics

Cultural Bases & Biases for Word Learning
Marianella Casasola, Department of Human Development

Chaos and Children’s Development: Levels of Analysis and Mechanisms
Gary Evans, Departments of Design & Environmental Anaysis & Human Development

What’s a Price Worth? An Experimental Study of Prices and Preferences
Ori Heffetz, Johnson School of Management
Moses Shayo, Department of Economics, Hebrew University

Workshop on Immigrant Political Incorporation
Michael Jones-Correa, Department of Government

The Diversification of Small Business Entrepreneurs: Form and Effects
Arturs Kalnins, Strategic Management, School of Hotel Administration

Embedded Neo-Liberalism in the Gear of Social Change: A Comparative-Historical Analysis 
Phil McMichael, Department of Development Sociology

Chronic Pain, Stress, and Resilience in Later Adulthood 
Anthony Ong, Department of Human Development
Cary Reid, Weill Cornell Medical College
Elaine Wethington, Departments of Human Development & Sociology
Karl Pillemer, Department of Human Development & Weill Cornell Medical College

Secondary Effects of Biofuels Demands: Implications for Feed and Livestock Industries
Todd Schmit, Department of Applied Economics and Management
William Tomek, Department of Applied Economics and Management

How Does New Medical Information Affect the Use of High-Risk Procedures? 
Kosali Simon, Department of Policy Analysis and Management
Valerie Reyna, Department of Human Development
Joseph Price, Department of Economics

Imagined and Realized Futures of U.S. Bioweapons Threat Assessments
Kathleen Vogel, Science and Technology Studies & Peace Studies Program

Encoding and Retrieving Information with Prosody
Michael Wagner, Department of Linguistics

Expected Utility Theory Through the Lens of Insurance Data
Levon Barseghyan, Department of Economics

This project studies households’ decision making under uncertainty using a unique dataset on consumers’ choices of auto, home, and excess liability insurance. For each type of insurance, we observe multiple choices (e.g., deductible, coverage against bodily injury, and coverage against loss of value). In addition, we observe the entire claims history for each household in our sample. The project consists of four papers. The first paper shows that households’ decision making does not conform to the predictions of the standard model of decision making under uncertainty in economics—expected utility theory. It does so by comparing each household’s choices of auto and home deductibles. Expected utility theory predicts that households who choose a high home deductible also should choose a high auto deductible. However, we find that households’ auto and home deductible choices are essentially independent of each other. The second paper will study the relation between households’ choices of insurance against large losses and choices of insurance against small losses. The third paper will use state of the art econometric techniques to provide joint identification regions for households’ beliefs and preferences over risky alternatives. The forth paper will examine whether commonly proposed alternatives to expected utility theory might provide a rationale for insurance choices observed in our dataset.

Cultural Bases & Biases for Word Learning 
Marianella Casasola, Department of Human Development

The proposed research explores cross-linguistic differences in English- and Mandarin-learning infants’ ability to learn labels for actions. Whereas infants learning Mandarin easily learn labels for actions (along with labels for people and objects), infants learning English struggle with learning these labels (although they easily acquire labels for people and objects). To document the reasons for this discrepancy, three experimental studies will test how infants learning Mandarin and those learning English attend to and attach labels to actions, people and objects. Our results will provide much-needed data on how Mandarin-speaking children perform in experimental paradigms and will provide important modifications to how early word learning is examined and discussed in the language development literature.

Chaos and Children’s Development: Levels of Analysis and Mechanisms 
Gary Evans, Departments of Design & Environmental Anaysis & Human Development

The focus of this conference and resulting edited book will be on how chaotic environmental settings influence human development from infancy through adolescence. Chaotic settings are characterized by high levels of noise, crowding, instability, and a lack of structure and predictability. We will draw upon Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model of human development to provide a theoretical and organizational framework to address our objectives.  A series of presentations will review what is currently known about relations between environmental chaos at the microsystem level and children’s development. We will then integrate existing research and theory to construct a framework for studying how higher order levels of chaos can alter the ecology of early human development. Because of the wide focus of Bronfenbrenner’s theory it is essential that a conference of this type be interdisciplinary in nature, with participants drawn from such diverse fields as developmental and environmental psychology, medicine, geography, public health, sociology, and anthropology.

Update: This project was recognized and awarded in a Conference Grant Program in November of 2007, aimed to promote the extrange of important new contributions to scientific psychology. More about this grant can be found in the article Conferences Grant Program.

What’s a Price Worth? An Experimental Study of Prices and Preferences
Ori Heffetz, Johnson School of Management, and Moses Shayo, Department of Economics, Hebrew University

The proposed research project is an attempt to examine the effect of commodity prices on consumer demand beyond their effects through the budget constraint. Adopting a theoretical framework that distinguishes between prices that enter the budget constraint (market prices) and prices that affect preferences (normal prices), we propose to implement both lab and field experiments with a unique design that will allow us to measure the effect of variations in normal prices on consumer choices, holding market prices constant.

Update: The successful findings of this research were documented and reviewed in the article “Consumers Don’t Always Equate Higher Prices With Quality,” published in October of 2009.

Workshop on Immigrant Political Incorporation 
Michael Jones-Correa, Department of Government

This interdisciplinary workshop to be held at Cornell University will develop theoretical approaches in the political and social sciences on “immigrant political incorporation.” The incorporation process is poorly understood, despite immigrants having a larger demographic presence in the United States than at any time in the last century, and the salience of immigration in public policy debates. This workshop, the second of three to be held jointly at Harvard University and Cornell University, will invite a select group of fifteen social scientists working on immigration to Cornell for a two day meeting to present, discuss and develop models of immigrant political incorporation. The workshop series will generate a synthetic research article that will help frame the research agenda in this area, as well an edited volume of approaches to and models of political incorporation.

The Diversification of Small Business Entrepreneurs: Form and Effects
Arturs KalninsStrategic Management, School of Hotel Administration

Diversification among small business entrepreneurs is a common form of growth that has received little academic attention to date. This project will assess the frequency of diversification and the relative likelihood of survival. Using data of over two million Texan business outlets open from 1990 to the present—including the entire population of retail outlets in the state, my results may yield evidence of management difficulties associated with diversification for entrepreneurs and small business owners that are much like those associated with large conglomerates.

Embedded Neo-Liberalism in the Gear of Social Change: A Comparative-Historical Analysis
Phil McMichael, Department of Development Sociology

This will develop a working conference at Cornell on rethinking methods of social movement analysis in comprehending the multiple ways in which neo-liberal political culture is embedded across the world. We plan 14 presentations, and 4-5 invited commentators. The conference will culminate several years of collaborative work on developing a methodology sensitive to social movement contestation of the categories through which they are analyzed and/or depicted. Our theoretical point of departure is that neo-liberalism represents a transformative moment in modern political-economy, and that this is expressed in a variety of movements for social justice. We bring to this proposition a historical, relational method of “incorporated comparison,” in which our case studies of different expressions of neo-liberalism are examined, separately and together, as power struggles over social change and over the terms through which we understand social change (whether categories of political sociology, or modernist narratives). Our goal is to produce an edited collection.

Chronic Pain, Stress, and Resilience in Later Adulthood 
Anthony Ong, Department of Human Development, Cary Reid, Weill Cornell Medical College, Elaine Wethington, Departments of Human Development & Sociology and Karl Pillemer, Department of Human Development & Weill Cornell Medical College

It is estimated that chronic pain afflicts between 50 and 80 million people in the United States alone, with an increased prevalence among the elderly. In addition to the emotional suffering that accompanies the pain experience, chronic pain presents enormous costs to society and remains a major health care problem for the elderly in the United States. The question of how older adults successfully adapt to chronic pain is a pressing concern for social scientists, educators, and policy-makers alike. Although research on chronic pain in the elderly has increased in recent years, the field still suffers from two weaknesses that compromise our understanding of the process by which emotional adaptation to pain develops in older populations: (1) a limited number of systematic, detailed analyses of older adults daily lives as they encounter the demands of adapting to painful experiences; and (2) little empirical attention to the role of resilience resources that may aid in the recovery from daily pain and stress for populations with chronic pain. The current project addresses these weaknesses by utilizing a combination of innovative methodological (daily diary) and statistical approaches (multilevel random coefficients modeling) to determine how the daily experiences of older adults with chronic pain, as well as their reactions to those experiences, are associated with positive adaptation over time.

Update: Project ADAPT (Assessment of Daily Activities and Pain over Time) involved daily diary study of chronic pain, social isolation or integration, and emotions with older adults in NYC. This work is in collaboration with investigators from Cornell University and Weill Cornell Medical College. The principal objective was to examine the role of resilience resources (i.e., social connectedness, positive emotions, and mindfulness) that may aid in the recovery from daily stress for populations of older adults with chronic pain. To date, these discussions have resulted in an invited review paper entitled “Resilience and vulnerability to chronic pain: Methodological and conceptual issues.” Further funding has also been awarded from the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging (CITRA) for $7,500.

Updates: Research finds that staying positive is better for long-term health (July 2015)

How Does New Medical Information Affect the Use of High-Risk Procedures? 
Kosali Simon, Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Valerie Reyna, Department of Human Development, and Joseph Price, Department of Economics

In July 2001 the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) released an article showing that having a vaginal birth after having had previous caesarean birth (VBAC) was associated with a higher risk of uterine rupture (an outcome that is often fatal for the baby). Following the release of this article, we found that the national VBAC rate dropped by 20% within a two month period. We also found that this drop occurred almost entirely for women with more than high school education. We propose to use this phenomenon to investigate an unanswered question: how does information from medical research affect the type of health care used through its effect on the patient vs the physician? Our research proposal is comprised of an economic analysis of secondary data, as well as an experimental psychology primary data component to understand physician and patient decision-making and responses to new information. Understanding how the results of medical research are influencing medical practice and the channels by which they act is important because of the vast sums of public funds spent on medical research. The degree to which this research will have an impact on the health of individuals depends on the extent to which the new information gained is put into practice by the public.

Updates: ISS’ Judgment Faculty Fellows’ Book Debuts Brain Models of Risky Decision-Making, ISS’ Judgment Faculty Fellow, Valerie Reyna, Co-directs the Cornell MRI Facility which Opens Doors to Understanding Human Cognition, ISS’ Faculty Fellow Valerie Reyna Examines the Hows and Whys of Economic Choices in New Book (July 2014).

Secondary Effects of Biofuels Demands: Implications for Feed and Livestock Industries
Todd Schmit and William Tomek, Department of Applied Economics and Management

The rapidly growing demands for biofuel feedstocks represent new demands for grains and oilseeds and, indeed, structural changes in agricultural commodity markets. As these commodities and/or their derivative products also serve as feedstocks to related livestock and dairy industries, primary commodity effects will be reverberated through impacts on feed prices and production in these inter-related sectors. The focus of our proposed study is to examine more closely these underlying secondary market effects and the relation of input prices to feed costs. From such research, we can forecast future changes in feed costs that would serve as useful information for production decisions and risk management strategies. Understanding the degree of substitution of biofuel by-product feeds into livestock rations will allow for determination of cost-effective feeding strategies for producers and an understanding of the extent of market utilization capacity. With the importance of the dairy production sector in the Northeast, combining these efforts to estimate the impacts on future milk production levels and farm profitability across various grain and feed pricing scenarios will be important in understanding the ultimate impact of higher feed costs on milk supply.

Updates: The focus of the study was to examine more closely these underlying secondary market effects and the relation of input prices to feed. This project aimed to understand the increasing commodity prices fueled by biofuels production growth, which appeared to be a boon for the nation’s crop farmers, at least in the short run. With the importance of the dairy production sector in the Northeast, combining these efforts to estimate the impacts on future milk production levels and farm profitability across various grain and feed pricing scenarios were important in understanding the ultimate impact of higher feed costs on milk supply.  In addition, for all livestock sectors, DDGS (Distiller’s Dried Grains with Solubles) cost savings increased as corn prices increased, reflecting differences in DDGS substitutability in feed rations for energy and protein components. This research led to a number of publications including a working paper entitled “Biofuel Demands, Their Implications for Feed Prices.” Additional funding from the department of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University for $2,000, the Cornell University Experiment Station for $84,000, and the New York Farm Viability Institute for $313,674 in support for further research (2008). Press coverage includes: Economists Rickard and Schmit, ISS’ Small Grant Awardees (Spring 2010), Explore “Loca-Pouring” of Wines (2013). Todd Schmit, an ISS’ Small Grant Award Recipient, Conducts Study Investigating Food Hubs’ Support for Local Economy (2014).

Imagined and Realized Futures of U.S. Bioweapons Threat Assessments
Kathleen Vogel, Science and Technology Studies & Peace Studies Program

The purpose of this study is to analyze the types of social machinery and institutional forces involved in shaping how bioweapons (BW) threat assessments are imagined, developed, and materialized within U.S. intelligence, defense, and foreign policies. I will use as a case study U.S. intelligence on Iraq’s BW program leading up to the 2003 war. Recent governmental and non-governmental investigations have revealed that the intelligence on Iraqi BW used to justify the war was largely constructed from threat visions imagined by the CIA and CIA-funded defense contractors. Although one could attribute this flawed assessment to an unfortunate and rare bungling of intelligence or a Bush Administration predilection for war, a closer look at US BW threat assessments reveals a more complicated picture involving historical and institutional factors shaping these assessments. In order to interrogate how such threat perceptions become realities, this paper will ask the following questions: How are enemy bioweapons capabilities imagined within U.S. bioweapons threat assessments? What social machinery has created, sustained, and extended these conceptualizations within the intelligence and defense communities? This work builds on my existing research involving social and technical analysis of bioweapons threats and how these analyses can inform U.S. policymaking. This research will constitute part of a larger book project analyzing issues of knowledge and expertise underpinning U.S. bioweapons threat assessments, which will be of interest to social scientists, policy analysts, and policymakers.

Encoding and Retrieving Information with Prosody
Michael WagnerDepartment of Linguistics

‘Prosody’ encompasses all those aspects of an utterance that are not due to the choice of the particular words, but are used to encode the syntactic grouping, to express emphasis, or to distinguish different speech acts (e.g. declaratives vs. questions). The factors determining prosody span all aspects of grammar: phonetic, phonological, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic factors play a role. Moreover, language processing factors such as production difficulty and working memory restrictions have been shown to be relevant. Prosody as a field of research is thus inherently interdisciplinary, and one reason why prosody in human language is still poorly understood is that traditionally each subfield was investigating one factor but ignoring others. The two studies aim to test some aspects of prosody experimentally, both in production and perception, integrating insights from previous research. The two key issues that we are interested in are: (i) What information about the sentence and its context is encoded in its prosody? (ii) How much of this information is reliably retrieved by the listener? These are basic questions about natural language that have so far only been rudimentarily answered. Any progress in understanding these issues would have implications and applications in a wide range of areas, including improving comprehensibility of synthesized speech and improving the recognition rate in speech recognition systems, both of which are crucial for speech-related assistive technology.

Update: This project sought out to study syntactic grouping in speech and its role in disambiguating ambiguous sentences. This research also focused on the encoding of information structure in speech, such as what information is highlighted as new and what information is placed in the background and marked as old. Journal publications are in the process of being developed along with a presentation for New York University and McGill University.