Category: Social media

Mental Well-being During Social Distancing

Managing mental well being is critical in times of uncertainty and unpredictability. One common coping mechanism is to connect in-person with friends or family because isolation can negatively impact those experiencing depression and anxiety.

Amid concerns over COVID-19, however, that recommendation conflicts with health and safety instructions on social distancing. Dr. Tonya Hansel and Dr. Maurya Glaude, licensed clinicians and researchers at the Tulane University School of Work, have the following suggestions to prevent increased at-home time from negatively affecting a person’s mental health.

  • Set up a routine and workspace dedicated to work. Use sticky notes, calendars, journals or other office supplies to help you stay organized and remember what you need to accomplish.
  • Email, message or call your colleagues or classmates. This will not only allow you to connect for mental well-being but also allow you to gain clarity and understanding about a particular assignment.
  • Recharge with fresh air, exercise and entertainment. This could include taking a midday walk or bike ride around your neighborhood, going on a nature hike or enjoying a snack on your porch. Allow more sunlight into your work space.
  • Maintain running, walking or cycling routines but bring your own water, avoid drinking out of public fountains and keep approximately 6 feet from others as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
  • Use the time you save from commuting to do extra things around your house, such as spring cleaning, cooking or gardening. Or create a piece of art or do craft projects with your children.
  • Feel free to allow small indulgences. Giving yourself or your children a little extra screen time is a way of practicing self-care.
  • Use technology — Facetime, Google Hangouts, Zoom or the phone — to keep up with friends and family and support one another. 
  • Access mental health resources such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. You can also call the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.

To schedule an interview with Hansel or Glaude, contact Carrie Moulder at cmoulder@tulane.edu or Barri Bronston at bbronst@tulane.edu.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

The Hidden History of Valentine’s Day🥰

Photo by Nick Fewings

UNLV history professor Elizabeth Nelson separates facts about the effects of marketing, consumerism, and social media on the holiday’s evolution from fiction about love’s golden age.

Pets, spouses, co-workers, friends, classmates: They’re all in line to be on the receiving end of another record year for Valentine’s Day spending, says a new survey by the National Retail Federation.

But as Americans strive to return to the good old days of romance, one UNLV history professor says they never actually existed.

“People love the idea that there were these wonderful eras before our own time when people celebrated Valentine’s Day in the most authentic way,” says Elizabeth Nelson, a 19th-century pop culture expert, who began researching Valentine’s Day three decades ago and literally wrote the book on marketing the holiday. “But there was always this long and complicated history about Valentine’s Day and people actually thought that it was too commercial and insincere from the very beginning.”

We sat down with Nelson to get a handle on the history behind the holiday and the ways advertising, consumerism, and social media have changed the way we celebrate.

Who is St. Valentine and why does he have a holiday?

Popular lore says that in 5th century A.D., there was a St. Valentine who was imprisoned for some transgression. The myth says the jailer’s daughter took pity, brought him food, and tried to save him. The incarcerated man sent her a note of thanks, signing it: “From your Valentine.” 

The story falls apart on multiple historical levels — it seems unlikely that the jailer’s daughter would have been literate or that Valentine could’ve gotten paper and pen in a jail cell. But historians argue that — like Christmas, Easter, and many other modern holidays — Christians in the past tended to link saint holidays with pagan celebrations to help solidify conversion because people didn’t want to give up the ways in which they lived their lives. Blending these holidays allowed revelers to keep observing rituals from centuries ago. Over time, the original intent was forgotten.

In this case, there was also a Roman festival called Lupercalia, celebrating fertility, that might have influenced the celebration of Valentine’s Day. While we now celebrate Valentine’s Day in February, in the Middle Ages, Chaucer, in “The Canterbury Tales,” describes the holiday as occurring in May with imagery of springtime, birds, and budding flowers — which makes sense if linked to a Roman holiday centered on fertility. 

What’s more, there are several saints throughout history named Valentine. But none of them are patron saints of love.

Who celebrates Valentine’s Day and why?

Valentine’s Day is mostly only celebrated in the United States and Britain. Before the 18th century, it was about exchanging gifts — gloves and spoons were traditional — and being someone’s valentine for a whole year. It sometimes served as a precursor to betrothal. 

There are some interesting stories circulating about why it’s not as popular overseas.

Legend has it that in France, women who were rejected by their desired valentine would burn those men in effigy in a bonfire, causing a riotous ruckus — so allegedly, the government outlawed Valentine’s Day in the early 19th century. 

In England, there was a practice called “valentining,” where kids would go door to door asking for treats, similar to Halloween. However, over time, these public celebrations got out of hand and sometimes devolved into violence and mob action. So the proper, genteel middle class opted instead to change the focus from human interaction to the less dangerous exchange of cards.

When did the commercialization of Valentine’s Day begin?

In the 1840s, Valentine’s Day took off in the U.S. as increased paper production and printing presses lowered costs and increased the number of pre-printed cards that people could exchange that featured fancy lace, pictures, and other decorations. And sometimes celebrants copied pre-written poems out of books called “valentine writers” that featured bawdy sexual innuendo. My favorite metaphor: grating someone’s nutmeg.

One of earliest American valentine businesses was run by Esther Howland in Worcester, Mass. She was the daughter of an insurance agent who ran a stationary store. She asked her father to import fancy paper, lace, and other decor from England to make valentines to sell. She employed female friends of the family, and asked her brothers to share sample valentines during their work trips as traveling salesmen. Esther received many orders and created a successful business during the 1850s and 1860s. Her story is quite amazing because we don’t think of women as running businesses in the 19th century. 

Hallmark was founded in 1911, and technology made it possible to produce valentines in color and with various textures even more inexpensively than before. So, it’s really in the beginning of the 20th century that Valentine’s Day becomes part of a general movement to turn holidays into opportunities for selling things from candy to flowers to magazine advertisements. Valentine’s Day began to center more on children than before. People began exchanging valentines in school. Hallmark played a big role in marketing it to elementary students, shifting the focus to the competitive collecting of the most valentines rather than a single sincere one.

Has romance always been at the center of Valentine’s Day?

Initially, it was about having one valentine throughout the year and possibly becoming betrothed. But it evolved in the 19th century, sparking questions about the sincerity of exchanging pre-printed cards and the sanity of spending exorbitant amounts of money on them. 

Valentine’s Day and the exchange of valentines were a way that people in the emerging middle class in the 19th century negotiated that complicated relationship between romantic love and the economic reality of marriage. You could marry someone for love, but you still had to marry someone for love who could support you because most middle-class women didn’t work. So, it was dangerous just to fall in love with people without knowing anything about them. The celebration of Valentine’s Day became a way for people to test the uncomfortable juxtapositions of what love and marriage should be and the reality of what was actually possible. So, not so different from today.

How has social media shifted the celebration of Valentine’s Day?

One of the things that’s nice about Valentine’s Day today is that there are a variety of ways to celebrate. There are Galentine’s and Single Awareness Day celebrations, you can give your pet a gift, or you can even celebrate alone. You don’t have to wait for the candy or the flowers to come. People still do those things, but there’s less pressure to conform to a public declaration or celebration of it. And that’s the thing about Valentine’s Day: It’s about what other people see you doing or getting. How do you perform the idea of love rather than actually express or engage in the act of love. It’s the representation of the commercial items — getting flowers delivered to your office or going to a fancy restaurant or getting a piece of expensive piece of jewelry. It’s what other people think of your couplehood rather than what you think about it.

It is likely that Facebook and other social media have made Valentine’s Day more viral and more toxic, but the framework was already there. It’s not so much that social media really changed the scrutiny that was already at the core of Valentine’s Day; it just created a whole new possibility for performing the act of Valentine’s Day. Because social media sites are all about performing your imagined best self, the level of scrutiny on how you celebrate Valentine’s Day or what you got for Valentine’s day is ratcheted up exponentially on Facebook . It is not just about the people in your office or in your neighborhood, everybody in your world sees whether your sweetie did right by you or not, or vice versa.

Facebook deepfake ban

Notre Dame Expert: Host of problems with Facebook deepfake ban

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tim Weninger, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, says Facebook’s newly announced ban on deepfakes is good news for democracy but presents a number of challenges in the fight against the spread of misinformation.

Weninger is an expert in disinformation and fake news, web and social media, data mining and machine learning.

“This is good news for democracy and a good business policy for Facebook, whose users don’t want to be lied to by the content they see,” Weninger said. “If Facebook becomes flooded by fake or misleading content, then users will abandon the site.”

But, Weninger adds, the policy presents a host of problems and challenges.

“Most obvious is the technological question of how will Facebook determine which content is AI faked and which is not. It’s clear that deepfake technology will soon be usable by the masses. And when that happens, Facebook won’t have the capacity to filter fake videos manually. Notre Dame and others are working on deepfake detectors, but these automatic detectors won’t catch everything. 

“Second is the actual effect that this deepfake ban will have on the actual problem. It’s often said that ‘a lie can travel around the world before the truth can get its pants on.’ So, if a deepfake is created, shared and quickly taken down, the damage is done — it will live forever. And there is little that a maligned political candidate or brand can do to fix it.

“In my opinion, deepfakes are some mix of identity theft and slander. And there ought to be a legal remedy or judicial recourse available to the victims of deepfakes.”

Song for our times: War is Hell.

Charly Chiarelli futured on “I’M Italian Magazine

Charly Chiarelli

Unattainable Standards of Beauty for Today’s Woman

Victoria Secret models shrink while average US women’s dress size increases

Photo by Tamara Bellis

While the average American woman’s waist circumference and dress size has increased over the past 20 years, Victoria’s Secret fashion models have become more slender, with a decrease in bust, waist, hips and dress size, though their waist to hip ratio (WHR) has remained constant.

These findings represent an ideal of beauty that continuously moves further away from the characteristics of the average American woman.

Quantifying female body attractiveness is complex. Perceived attractiveness is influenced by physical and nonphysical traits and is further guided by media exposure and sociocultural standards of the time. One of the more established parameters to evaluate female body attractiveness is the WHR, which measures body fat distribution. Interestingly, WHR has continued to be an ideal beauty trait that has stayed constant over time and cross-culterally.

In order to evaluate trends of physical body attributes, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) measured and compared Victoria’s Secret models from 1995 to 2018. The first Victoria’s Secret runway show debuted 23 years ago and since then has been viewed by millions annually, making it the most watched fashion show worldwide.

The data showed that over time, Victoria’s Secret fashion models have become thinner, with smaller busts, waist, hips and dress size, whereas their WHR remained constant. “Conversely, the average American woman’s waist circumference and dress size has increased and varies between a misses size 16 and 18,” explained corresponding author Neelam Vashi, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at BUSM.

According to the researchers, in parallel with this trend, the percentage of women seeking cosmetic surgical procedures has dramatically increased and may be due to the desire to achieve the ideal WHR, which is a narrow waist set against fuller hips. Buttock and lower body lift has increased by 4,295 percent and 256 percent, respectively since 2000.

“Our results represent a potentially changing weight ideal of beauty that is moving farther away from the characteristics of the average American woman; however, a constant idealized WHR remains intact,” added Vashi, who also is director of the Boston University Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center.

Black Teens Face Racial Discrimination Multiple Times Daily

Teens in study experience anti-black microaggressions most frequently online, according to Rutgers researcher

Black teenagers experience daily racial discrimination, most frequently online, which can lead to negative mental health effects, according to a Rutgers researcher.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, examined how often black teens experience racial discrimination each day – either personally or vicariously and online or offline.

The researchers surveyed 101 black youth between ages 13 and 17 from predominantly black neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., each day for two weeks about their experiences with racial discrimination and measured changes in their depressive symptoms across that period. The teens reported more than 5,600 experiences of racial discrimination in total – an average of more than five experiences per day.

“This research reflects what researchers and activists have asserted for years: Black adolescents are forced to face antiblack microaggressions on a daily basis. Importantly, this study expands the research on the many ways that discrimination happens, whether it is being teased by peers, asked to speak for their racial group in class or seeing a racist post on social media,” said lead author Devin English, an assistant professor at Rutgers School of Public Health.

The experiences reported in the study, which ranged from teasing about physical appearance to overt discrimination, mainly occurred online and led to short-term increases in depressive symptoms. Examples of discrimination included teasing by peers about wearing their hair natural, seeing jokes about their race online and witnessing a family member or friend being treated poorly due to their race or ethnicity.

“Racial teasing is important because it is one of the most common ways adolescents communicate about race,” English noted. “Critically, young people and adults, such as teachers, often see this teasing as harmless and choose not to address it. Our results, however, show several types of racial teasing are harmful for black adolescents.”

“Although public discourse can indirectly or directly blame health inequities on black youth, our study provides evidence that racial discrimination in society is a fundamental cause of these health inequities,” he continued. “Knowing this, people in positions of power such as clinicians, school administrators and policy makers have a responsibility to consider discrimination as a critical aspect of the daily experience and health of black teens. Racial discrimination prevention should be a public health imperative.”

Don’t Get on Santa’s Naughty List

Photo by hue12 photography

Looking for ideas on easy ways to reduce your environmental impact during the holiday season? With the help of UK Recycling, here are eight easy ideas for you and everyone in your life to stay green this holiday season.

  • Think reusables when wrapping — Use reusable bags or containers when wrapping instead of onetime use items. Also consider using brown craft paper or newspaper comic strips, which can be recycled, or wrapping presents with reusable bags or scarves.
  • Send electronically — Send electronic greeting cards instead of sending cards through the mail to help you reduce the amount of waste you generate this holiday season.
  • Look for electronic recycling programs — Lots of people upgrade electronics around the holidays. Wondering what to do with the old ones? Look for electronic recycling centers, such as Lexington’s Electronic Recycling Center. A full list of acceptable items is here.
  • Shop at resale places —​ Thrifting is reusing good condition items. Not only is shopping at resale stores usually cheaper, but it also supports local businesses or charities. A full list of resale places in Lexington can be found here.
  • Give everyday items a new life — Turn a teacup into a candle or a mini planter, or a soda can into a unique ornament. With a little creativity, items can be reused and given a new life for your friends and family to enjoy.
  • Give gifts that can be reused — Everyone needs a reusable water bottle or coffee mug. Give useful gifts that everyone loves and can be reused year-round. Other examples are silicone food bags, stainless steel straws and travel utensils.
  • Give the gift of experiences — Not sure what to get someone? Give the gift of an experience. Get them tickets to a concert or take them bowling. Experiences are more likely to be unique and personal than material gifts — and do not generate materials for landfills.
  • Continue to recycle during the holidays — Find out what is recyclable in your area and participate in the program. Recycle all your cardboard, aluminum cans and plastics bottles and jugs and help keep them out of the landfill.

For information about what is recyclable at UK visit www.uky.edu/facilities/cppd/services/facilities-services/recycling/what-is-recyclable. For any other information about UK recycling visit www.uky.edu/facilities/cppd/services/facilities-services/recycling or contact recycle@uky.edu.           

How humans make choices in groups and social media?

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina

A method with roots in AI uncovers how humans make choices in groups and social media

The choices we make in large group settings — such as in online forums and social media — might seem fairly automatic to us. But our decision-making process is more complicated than we know. So, researchers have been working to understand what’s behind that seemingly intuitive process.

Now, new University of Washington research has discovered that in large groups of essentially anonymous members, people make choices based on a model of the “mind of the group” and an evolving simulation of how a choice will affect that theorized mind.

Using a mathematical framework with roots in artificial intelligence and robotics, UW researchers were able to uncover the process for how a person makes choices in groups. And, they also found they were able to predict a person’s choice more often than more traditional descriptive methods. The results were published Wednesday, Nov. 27, in Science Advances.

“Our results are particularly interesting in light of the increasing role of social media in dictating how humans behave as members of particular groups,” said senior author Rajesh Rao, the CJ and Elizabeth Hwang professor in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology.

“In online forums and social media groups, the combined actions of anonymous group members can influence your next action, and conversely, your own action can change the future behavior of the entire group,” Rao said.  

The researchers wanted to find out what mechanisms are at play in settings like these.

In the paper, they explain that human behavior relies on predictions of future states of the environment — a best guess at what might happen — and the degree of uncertainty about that environment increases “drastically” in social settings. To predict what might happen when another human is involved, a person makes a model of the other’s mind, called a theory of mind, and then uses that model to simulate how one’s own actions will affect that other “mind.”

While this act functions well for one-on-one interactions, the ability to model individual minds in a large group is much harder. The new research suggests that humans create an average model of a “mind” representative of the group even when the identities of the others are not known.

To investigate the complexities that arise in group decision-making, the researchers focused on the “volunteer’s dilemma task,” wherein a few individuals endure some costs to benefit the whole group. Examples of the task include guarding duty, blood donation and stepping forward to stop an act of violence in a public place, they explain in the paper.

To mimic this situation and study both behavioral and brain responses, the researchers put subjects in an MRI, one by one, and had them play a game. In the game, called a public goods game, the subject’s contribution to a communal pot of money influences others and determines what everyone in the group gets back. A subject can decide to contribute a dollar or decide to “free-ride” — that is, not contribute to get the reward in the hopes that others will contribute to the pot.

If the total contributions exceed a predetermined amount, everyone gets two dollars back. The subjects played dozens of rounds with others they never met. Unbeknownst to the subject, the others were actually simulated by a computer mimicking previous human players.

“We can almost get a glimpse into a human mind and analyze its underlying computational mechanism for making collective decisions,” said lead author Koosha Khalvati, a doctoral student in the Allen School. “When interacting with a large number of people, we found that humans try to predict future group interactions based on a model of an average group member’s intention. Importantly, they also know that their own actions can influence the group. For example, they are aware that even though they are anonymous to others, their selfish behavior would decrease collaboration in the group in future interactions and possibly bring undesired outcomes.”

In their study, the researchers were able to assign mathematical variables to these actions and create their own computer models for predicting what decisions the person might make during play. They found that their model predicts human behavior significantly better than reinforcement learning models — that is, when a player learns to contribute based on how the previous round did or didn’t pay out regardless of other players — and more traditional descriptive approaches.

Given that the model provides a quantitative explanation for human behavior, Rao wondered if it may be useful when building machines that interact with humans.

“In scenarios where a machine or software is interacting with large groups of people, our results may hold some lessons for AI,” he said. “A machine that simulates the ‘mind of a group’ and simulates how its actions affect the group may lead to a more human-friendly AI whose behavior is better aligned with the values of humans.”

Co-authors include Seongmin A. Park, Center for Mind and Brain at UC Davis and Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod, France; Saghar Mirbagheri, Department of Psychology, New York University; Remi Philippe, Mariateresa Sestito and Jean-Claude Dreher at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod.

This research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Science Foundation, and the Templeton World Charity Foundation.

For more information, contact Rao at rao@cs.washington.edu.

Increase Social Media Likability

Social media users who post a high percentage of selfies have lower perceived likability

Credit: iStock

A new Baylor University study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture looks at the value that outside observers place on social media cues (followers, likes, etc.) and measures the perceived likability of the people whose profiles were viewed.

WACO, Texas

Maybe you think your Facebook posts are hilarious. Or you might think that Instagram selfie of you at the beach is picture-perfect. And that clever Tweet? You nailed it! But what do other people – your “friends,” “followers” and anyone else who might stumble across your profile – think of you based on your social media presence? Do they really like you?

A new Baylor University study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture looks at the value that outside observers place on social media cues (followers, likes, number of selfies, etc.) and measures the perceived likability of the people whose profiles were viewed. The experimental study generated 873 decision responses from 72 experienced social media users who were asked to look at differing social media profiles and posts and then assess the likeability of the social media user.

“There are many studies of individuals’ self-perception through social media use. We are turning that around and looking at the audience’s perspective,” said the study’s lead author, Steven W. Bradley, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.

The study shows that “perceived likability” – a combination of perceived friendliness, relevance, empathy and realness – differed among men and women. Individual cue patterns confirmed several commonly held assumptions while combinations of social cues produced more intriguing findings, Bradley said. Researchers found:

  • Social media users who amass a larger number of friends and garner high numbers of likes on their posts have a higher perceived likability
  • Social media users who are considered physically attractive have higher perceived likability
  • Social media users who post a high percentage of selfies – photos featuring only themselves – have lower perceived likability
  • Males tend to value attractiveness more than females in assessing likability
  • Females tend to base perceived likability on numbers of followers, likes and percentage of selfies

Overall, the number of followers and likes are twice as important as attractiveness in predicting likeability, Bradley said. Alternatively, social media users with a higher percentage of selfies are considered 1.5 times less likeable by outside observers.   

Researchers found that users who were rated “low in attractiveness” gained more likability points, per se, if they had a large number of followers and likes. When social media users are viewed as “higher in attractiveness,” a change in the followers and likes from low to high increases perceived likeability by 20 percent. In contrast, for social media users who are perceived as lower in attractiveness, the difference in rated likeability between low and high followers and likes is 64 percent.

“In other words, numbers of followers and likes may be used by an observer to ‘make up’ for more obvious indicators like attractiveness when assessing likability,” the researchers wrote. “Most observers suggest that attractive people are likable due to associated attributes like social ease and confidence. A less attractive person with a high number of followers and likes suggest that other features – perhaps friendliness, relevance, empathy and realness – are the source of their social network, which also increase perceptions of likability.”

As for selfies? The researchers found that observers use their experience with cues regarding selfies to evaluate whether an authentic or manufactured self is presented.

“Too many selfies suggest the page owner is overly narcissistic and not a good friend candidate,” said study co-author James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business.

Likability diminished even when other social media status cues of followers or attractiveness were high.

“We hypothesized and found that a high percentage of selfies is a cue that may indicate less reciprocity and group benefit, focusing narcissistically on oneself relative to others,” the researchers wrote.

ABOUT THE STUDY

The study, “Experimental Evidence of Observed Social Media Status Cues on Perceived Likability,” is published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Authors are Steven W. Bradley, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship, Baylor University Hankamer School of Business; James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing, Baylor University Hankamer School of Business; and Preston W. Bradley, student, Live Oak Classical School, Waco, Texas.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

ABOUT HANKAMER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS

Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business provides a rigorous academic experience, consisting of classroom and hands-on learning, guided by Christian commitment and a global perspective. Recognized nationally for several programs, including Entrepreneurship and Accounting, the school offers 24 undergraduate and 13 graduate areas of study. Visit http://www.baylor.edu/businessand follow on Twitter at twitter.com/Baylor_Business.

iPads and Teens with Autism

As adults, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be highly dependent on family members or assistance programs for their day-to-day living needs. It has been reported that following high school and up to eight years after, only 17 percent of adults with ASD live independently. Developing skills like cooking, getting dressed and cleaning are essential to promoting autonomy and self-determination and improving quality of life. For some individuals with ASD, completing daily tasks can be challenging because they often involve sequential steps.

Research has shown that people with ASD are strong visual learners. With technological advances, devices such as smartphones and tablets have become more portable and ultimately, accessible to caregivers. However, few studies have examined whether parents can learn to effectively deliver evidence-based practices using portable, mainstream devices like an iPad.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and collaborators conducted a small, novel study to examine whether video prompting interventions using an iPad could be effective in increasing parents’ competence and confidence to use mobile devices to interact with their adolescent children with ASD. The objective was to evaluate the effects of behavior skills training with follow-along coaching to instruct parents to deliver video prompting with an iPad to teach daily living skills to their children. What makes this study unique is that parents of adolescents were coached and learned to use an iPad in their own homes. While other studies have been successful in teaching parents to implement evidence-based practices, they largely targeted parents of young children.

For the study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, researchers targeted parents of adolescents with ASD who would be transitioning into adulthood in the near future and who needed to cultivate independent living skills to decrease dependency on others, while improving self-esteem and confidence. Each child, between the ages of 12 and 17 years old, had to complete a skill selected by the parents: make a bed, cook pasta or tie shoelaces. Parents received guidance on using an iPad and implementing the intervention. They learned how to guide their child to watch the instructional video, imitate what they viewed, and then provide appropriate feedback.

Depending on the outcome, parents were asked to provide praise, correct the errors or demonstrate the step themselves if the child made two or more consecutive errors on the same task step. Lead researcher of the study Elisa Cruz-Torres, Ed.D., in the Department of Exceptional Student Education in FAU’s College of Education, visited families’ homes three times a week for one hour for each family’s intervention, which lasted between five to seven weeks.

Results of the study showed that all of the children substantially improved correct and independent completion of their daily living skills, which validates that video prompting procedures are effective in ameliorating skill deficits.

While parents were successful in implementing the video prompting preparation and procedures, they were inconsistent with the consequence strategies such as social praise and error correction. None-the-less, the children still mastered their skills and maintained the skill three weeks after the end of the intervention.

“Our findings show that video prompting interventions produced both immediate and lasting effects for children with autism spectrum disorder and that parents can be powerful delivery agents to increase independence in their children,” said Cruz-Torres. “While it is desirable that parents follow steps exactly, we learned that even with slight variations in parent delivery, the teens still mastered the intended skills.”

Data from this study also revealed that none of the children required more than 17 interventions to reach mastery criteria. In addition, this study draws attention to the importance of evidence-based practices for families of older children with ASD.

“Now, when I’m working with my son to learn a new skill or even talk about a new skill, because of this study I have learned to break it down into smaller pieces rather than asking him to do the whole thing. We use this concept for other things like doing laundry. I’ve also learned that he is very responsive to praise,” said Susan Freeman, a parent in the study. “John is a very visual learner so being able to see what each step should look like enables him to complete the task. He’s still making his bed and we’re working on changing the sheets, which is a new skill. I don’t have to make his bed anymore.”

Freeman’s son Johnathon “John” DiFusco also is pleased with this instructional method, which makes him feel good about himself as well as proud.

“Now, I can be on time for school and I also know how to vacuum,” said DiFusco.  

Co-authors of the study are Mary Louise Duffy, Ph.D., a retired professor; Michael P. Brady, Ph.D., a professor and chair; and Peggy Goldstein, Ed.D.; an associate professor, all within FAU’s Department of Exceptional Student Education; and Kyle D. Bennett, Ed.D., associate professor, Department of Teaching and Learning, Florida International University.  

– FAU – 

About Florida Atlantic University:

Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.