Category: social

A vast majority of Floridians support stricter gun laws

Credit: Florida Atlantic University
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Bill Nelson Edges Ahead of Rick Scott in U.S. Senate Race

In the wake of a mass shooting that took the lives of 17 students and teachers at a South Florida high school, a vast majority of Floridians support stricter gun laws, including a ban on assault-style rifles, universal background checks and raising the minimum age for gun purchasers, according to a statewide survey by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative (FAU BEPI).

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On the political front, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has lost ground to Sen. Bill Nelson in a U.S. Senate race hypothetical matchup. Although Scott has not officially declared his candidacy for the seat currently held by Nelson, the latest poll shows Nelson with a two-point lead over Scott, 40 to 38 percent. A poll FAU BEPI conducted at the beginning of February showed Scott leading Nelson by 10 points.

“The bad news for Scott is his A+ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) makes 44 percent of voters less likely to vote for him and only 26 percent more likely,” said Monica Escaleras, Ph.D., director of the BEPI. “A deeper dive into these numbers also finds Independents less likely to vote for Scott, 43 to 17 percent, because of his NRA rating.”

Additionally, Floridians disapprove of U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the recent mass shooting 49 to 34 percent. Republicans approve 62 to 20 percent, while Democrats disapprove 73 to 16 percent, and Independents disapprove 53 to 23 percent.

Seven out of 10 voters want stricter gun laws while only 11 percent said laws should be less strict and 19 percent said laws should be left as is. A majority of voters of every party affiliation want stricter gun laws, with Democrats most in support at 84 percent, followed by Independents at 69 percent and Republicans at 55 percent.

Universal background checks for all gun buyers are supported by 87 percent of voters, and there is no statistical difference based on party affiliation. Nearly 4 of 5 voters (78 percent) support raising the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, while 69 percent support a ban on assault-style rifles, with 23 percent opposed. A proposal to arm teachers is opposed by 56 percent of voters and supported by only 31 percent, with Democrats opposing by a 74 to 16 percent margin, Independents opposing 57 to 26 percent and Republicans supporting the proposal 53 to 37 percent.

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“Gun control may turn out to be a pivotal issue in the midterm elections and could well be the difference in a close race for the Senate between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson,” said Kevin Wagner, Ph.D., professor of political science at FAU and a research fellow of the Initiative. “While large majorities of Floridians support background checks and an increase in the age requirement, it is not at all clear that there is sufficient support for these measures in the Florida legislature. As we are already late in the session, it will take a serious push by Gov. Scott to pass any of these reforms this year.”

The survey also found that 27 percent of voters have either been a victim of gun violence themselves or know someone who has. Among African American voters this number jumps to 51 percent, while only 22 percent of whites and 24 percent of Hispanics have had this experience. Younger voters are also more likely to have been a victim or know a victim of gun violence, with 36 percent of voter’s age 18-34, 30 percent of age 35-54, 23 percent of age 55-74 and 9 percent of those over 75.

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When asked what they believe is the major contributor to mass shootings, the availability of guns came in first with nearly 4 of 10 voters (39 percent), while 24 percent selected a lack of mental healthcare. Violent themes on TV and video games came in third at 18 percent, while 14 percent said it’s something else. One-third of Republicans (33 percent) said the lack of mental healthcare was a major contributor of gun violence, while availability of guns was ranked as the major contributor by Democrats (56 percent) and Independents (42 percent).

More than 4 of 10 (41 percent) of voters in the survey own a gun. Republicans (52 percent) are more likely to own a gun than Democrats (36 percent) and Independents (33 percent).

“Independent voters are closer to the Democrats than the Republicans on some of these gun control issues in our poll. That could be a problem for Republicans in the fall,” Wagner said.

The survey, which polled 800 Florida registered voters Feb. 23-25, was conducted using an online sample supplied by Survey Sampling International using online questionnaires and via an automated telephone platform (IVR) using registered voter lists supplied by Aristotle, Inc. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points. Responses for the entire sample were weighted to reflect the statewide distribution of the Florida population. The polling results and full cross-tabulations are available at www.business.fau.edu/bepi.

– FAU –

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About FAU BEPI: The Florida Atlantic University Business and Economic Polling Initiative conducts surveys on business, economic, political and social issues with a focus on Hispanic attitudes and opinions at regional, state and national levels via planned monthly national surveys. The initiative subscribes to the American Association of Public Opinion Research and is a resource for public and private organizations, academic research and media outlets. In addition, the initiative is designed to contribute to the educational mission of the University by providing students with valuable opportunities to enhance their educational experience by designing and carrying out public opinion research.

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.

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A collective narcissism

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Credit: (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

“Sorry Virginia, U.S. History Isn’t All About You!”

As the United States celebrates its founding on July 4, new research on “collective narcissism” suggests many Americans have hugely exaggerated notions about how much their home states helped to write the nation’s narrative.

New research on collective narcissism suggests that residents of many American states, including Texas, have an inflated sense of their home state’s role in U.S. history.

newswise-fullscreen Sorry Virginia, U.S. History Isn’t All About You
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Heat map of residents’ ratings of their state’s contributions to U.S. history. Darker colors and higher percentages represent a larger estimated contribution to U.S.

“Our study shows a massive narcissistic bias in the way that people from the United States remember the contributions of their home states to U.S. history,” said Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger, professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and senior author of the study.

The study, published June 24 in the journal Psychological Science, is based on a national survey of nearly 4,000 U.S residents, including about 50-60 respondents from each of the nation’s 50 states.

Asked to estimate their home state’s contribution to U.S. history, participants routinely gave their home state higher scores than those provided by non-residents of the state.

“As we originally hypothesized, the original 13 colonies, Texas and California showed high levels of narcissism, but there were also some surprises,” said Adam Putnam, the study’s first author and assistant professor of psychology at Furman University in South Carolina. “For example, people from Kansas and Wyoming thought much more of their state than nonresidents.”

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Collective narcissism — a phenomenon in which individuals show excessively high regard for their own group — has been studied extensively in smaller social circles, such as workplaces and communities. Psychologists have explored the idea that people over-claim responsibility for shared tasks for a long time, but this study is among the first to research its effects among huge virtual groups of loosely connected individuals scattered across entire states.

While it is difficult for anyone to accurately estimate an individual state’s contribution to the nation’s history, it is mathematically reasonable to expect the sum total of individual state contributions to add up to a figure in the vicinity of 100 percent.

Instead, the average percentage contributions estimated by residents of each state in this study added up to a staggering 907 percent, more than nine times higher than logic suggests.

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Roediger grew up in Virginia and was not surprised that his home state was on the high end of the continuum, claiming responsibility for 41 percent of the nation’s history.

“We would study U.S. history one year, then Virginia history the next. Many of the events are the same: Jamestown, the Revolution, four of the first five presidents being from Virginia, all the Civil War battles,” he recalls.

When people in other states were asked about Virginia’s percentage contribution to U.S. history, they also gave a high number: 24 percent.

In an effort to see if state narcissism could be reduced by exposure to the realities of U.S. history, researchers divided the sample into two groups, requiring half to take a quiz designed to remind them of the true breadth of U.S. history before they answered the relevant question. The other half answered the question first, before they took the quiz. However, placement of the question about how much the person’s state contributed did not matter. The average across the 50 states was 18.1 percent whether the question was posed first or was placed last.

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“The responses are even more amazing because we explicitly tell people in the question that there are 50 states and the total contribution of all states should equal 100 percent — even with that reminder Americans give really high responses,” Putnam said. “Being reminded about the scope of U.S. history before making the estimate doesn’t seem to lower the responses.

Putnam, who earned a doctorate in psychology from Washington University in 2015, has worked with Roediger on other studies of collective narcissism, including a just-published paper that applies the same methodology to 35 nations around the globe.

That study, which found that residents of Malaysia considered themselves responsible for 39 percent of world history, has important implications for how residents of these countries view one another and interact on the world stage.

Roediger and Putnam offer several explanations for the skewed perceptions uncovered in the study of collective narcissism among residents of American states.

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State of the union’s perception

Most humble states, according to the Narcissism Index:
1. Washington. Less than 1 percent
(Tie) 2. Colorado. 1 percent
Iowa
Kentucky
Mississippi
6. Arizona. 2 percent
(T) 7. Alabama. 3 percent
Maine
Texas
Utah
(T) 11. Missouri, with 6 others. 4 percent

Most immodest states:
(T) 1. Delaware, Virginia. 18 percent
3. Georgia. 15 percent
(T) 4. Kansas. 12 percent
Massachusetts
Wyoming
(T) 7. Idaho. 11 percent
Louisiana
New Jersey
(T) 10. Rhode Island, Hawaii. 10 percent

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For starters, people know a lot more about their home state than other states: they study state history in school, visit museums and so on. All of this information comes to mind quickly and easily compared to information about other states (a phenomenon known as the availability heuristic).

A second factor is that social psychology research has clearly shown that people like to associate with successful groups and think of themselves as being slightly above-average on a variety of positive traits.

Finally, people might not be particularly good at making quantitative estimates about small numbers.

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“The most important take away from this research is that people may appear to be egocentric or narcissistic about their own groups, but there isn’t necessarily anything malicious or evil about it — it is just the way we view the world,” Putnam said. “There is certainly concern about tribalism in today’s culture, so this project is a nice reminder to try and think about how people from different backgrounds see things.”

Bullying children with autism

Photo by Quin Stevenson

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BINGHAMTON, NY – Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to experience bullying than children without ASD and this bullying gets worse with age, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Hannah Morton, a graduate student in the clinical psychology PhD program at Binghamton University, aimed to conceptualize bullying in children with ASD in order to specifically identify different bullying and behavior types. Her research also emphasizes the need to establish better definitions of bullying behaviors.

“This research is important because it contributes to our understanding of how bullying is nuanced,” said Morton. “This variability means it is crucial to establish a definition for bullying and have standard assessments to know when and what types of bullying are occurring.”

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Morton, along with Binghamton psychologists Jennifer Gillis, Richard Mattson and Raymond Romanczyk, focused this study on teachers and parents of children with ASD, and community members without an ASD child. Participants took a survey containing 80 scenarios of interactions between two school-aged children. The scenarios varied from children ages four to fifteen. Sixty-four of these scenarios contained a type of bullying behavior (i.e. physical, verbal, interpersonal and cyber). The participants were randomly presented with 16 scenarios, and were asked to rate the severity of the interaction between the two children, as well as indicate which types of bullying were present.

Results showed that a child’s increased age predicted higher bullying severity ratings. The findings also showed that bullying among older children with ASD is viewed as especially problematic by their parents, and that perceived bullying severity differed according to the type of bullying behavior (i.e., physical, verbal, interpersonal, and cyber). 

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“This paper emphasizes that bullying is a really broad construct,” said Morton. “What any two people might be referring to when they use the term ‘bullying’—regardless if they are parents, teachers, researchers, etc.— likely differs, and perhaps in subtle ways.”

Morton plans to further her research on this topic by focusing specifically on the bullying behaviors that children with ASD experience compared to children without ASD.

This research was conducted through Binghamton University’s Institute for Child Development, which offers early intervention services, speech services and more to children and families in the Binghamton region. 

The paper, “Conceptualizing bullying in children with autism spectrum disorder: Using a mixed model to differentiate behavior types and identify predictors,” was published in Autism.

In a warming world

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In a warming world, glacier scientists have to keep going higher.

An expedition to Peru captures climate history trapped in ice – before it is gone.

From the summit of Huascarán, the highest mountain in Earth’s tropics, the valleys of the western Andes look placid and peaceful – calming, even. The signs of climate change – of the melting glaciers throughout the Andes, of the changes to the local villages’ water supplies – are not immediately evident.

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But the scientific crew on top of the mountain knows those changes are there.

It’s part of why they’ve traveled so far, from the United States, Mexico, Italy, Peru, France and Russia, and tackled this harrowing climb to more than 22,000 feet: to visit the glaciers at the top and to drill columns of glacier ice to send back to The Ohio State University for analysis. The ice holds many clues to what has happened in Earth’s atmosphere and in the climate of the region over the last 20,000 years. And, if Earth keeps warming, the glacier might not be there for much longer. 

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“I’ve worked in Peru for 44 years, and have visited some of the ice fields 25 times,” said Lonnie Thompson, distinguished university professor in the School of Earth Sciences and senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. “And I’ve been able to document the increase in temperature and the melting that is taking place on the summits of many of these glaciers.”

Huascarán is a peak in the Cordillera Blanca range in northern Peru. Thompson has been here before, in 1980, 1992, 1993, 2016, and in the summer of 2019 he led a group of scientists back to see how the glacier had changed and to collect new ice samples.

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Because of its altitude, Huascarán is one of the more challenging and dangerous peaks on which Thompson and his crew have drilled. But that altitude also protects the ice. Currently glaciers at lower altitudes, where it is warmer, are melting rapidly and Huascarán’s glacier will eventually melt, too, but for now, it is likely one of the few remaining intact tropical glaciers in the world. 

“It is our belief that this mountain is the only one in Peru that still has a largely unaltered ice record, both in the col (the flat glacier area between the North and South Peaks) and on the higher South Peak,” Thompson said. “And this makes it ideal for certain types of gas measurements that have not been made in the low latitudes before – if there’s any tropical place on Earth where gases like methane can be measured, this will be it.”   

Though they ran into some local political tensions during the expedition, the drilling process went smoothly – more smoothly, Thompson said, than any of the past 80-plus similar excursions he has led.

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Extracting ice from glaciers in the Tropics can be harrowing. The climbs are often dangerous – in the case of Huascarán, avalanches required the team’s mountaineers to create an entirely new route to the summit. (Mountain climbers are known for naming their routes; they christened this one “the Lonnie Thompson route” in Thompson’s honor.) The air gets thinner the higher up a person climbs; high-altitude sickness is a real threat. The symptoms, which include shortness of breath, can also go unnoticed or may begin as low as 8,000 feet. At 22,000 feet, the air is so thin that the scientific team traveled with “backup” oxygen tanks and a Gamow bag, a portable hyperbaric chamber that can be pressurized to sea level values. Fortunately, neither had to be used. 

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“It’s that high elevation that preserves the record in the ice cores – if you didn’t have those cold temperatures, you wouldn’t have the record,” Thompson said. “We’ve done dozens and dozens of expeditions, and the result of climate change is that we keep having to go higher on the glaciers. And that becomes an issue, because – well, I’m getting older, for one. And we are strict about acclimatizing – we go up four or five thousand meters on hikes and then come back down and sleep at lower altitudes. But it can wear on your body.” 

And Thompson, who celebrated his 71st birthday in Peru at the start of this summer’s expedition, had a heart transplant in 2012.

But the work is necessary, Thompson and the other scientists believe: Because of their ice core work, climate scientists around the world now know that climate change could have devastating effects on vulnerable people in the Andes Mountains and the Tibetan Plateau region. Their research has shown that glaciers in both parts of the world are melting more rapidly than at any point in the past 6,000 years, which could have serious repercussions for the water supply in parts of Peru, Pakistan, China, India and Nepal. 

On this most recent trip, they drilled more than 471 meters of glacial ice cores – long columns of ice that had been frozen since the last Ice Age. Work to analyze them is already underway – Thompson calls them “some of the best cores we’ve ever drilled.”

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They hope to begin publishing their findings from the cores soon. The cores will be analyzed for mineral dust to detect droughts; isotopes that indicate temperature changes; black carbon and trace elements to determine whether fires like the ones burning in the Amazon this year are part of the historical record; greenhouse gases to see how their concentrations in the atmosphere have changed over time; pollen to track vegetation changes; and microbes to determine how they have evolved over the last 20,000 years. 

In the meantime, Thompson and the team are contemplating their next excursion. There are glaciers in Peru and Tibet they would like to revisit, and there are more analyses to be made on ice they’ve already collected from other parts of the world. He wants to be sure he’s helping the next generation of scientists understand how to do this kind of field work.

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“These are difficult expeditions – there is the risk of avalanches; there is always the potential for injuries, inflections and various high altitude issues,” he said. “But if you overcome these, you realize the potential of which you’re capable. Some of our younger members just take to it like a duck to water. But the only way they are going to get that experience is to go to the field – first on lower elevation glaciers and then to the higher, more challenging glaciers like those on Huascarán.”

 

Written by: Laura Arenschield, Arenschield.2@osu.edu; 614-292-9475

The Happiness in the Workplace

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Photo by Ian Stauffer

If you want a better business, make sure your employees are happy. If you want to be a more successful employee, make sure not to neglect your own happiness.

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That’s the advice of Raj Raghunathan, professor of marketing at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. Raghunathan studies happiness and shares his insights in both his in-person classes at McCombs and in his award-winning online Coursera class that has been taken by more than 260,000 people in 196 countries since it launched in 2015.

Now, Raghunathan is offering a new online class aimed at making workplaces better for employers, employees, clients and customers. Happier Employees and Return on Investment, an open-access four-week course offered by McCombs through edX, is now open for enrollment.

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The course explores five critical issues: why happiness at work matters; what the five most important determinants of happiness at work are; what holds people back from feeling happy and fulfilled at work; what people can do to enhance their own happiness levels at work; and what they can do to enhance the happiness of coworkers.

“When employees are happy on the job, they are more productive for their company and earn more for themselves, said Raghunathan. “They take fewer sick days, are more collegial, perform better in teams, are more creative and objective, and make better decisions.”

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There are no prerequisites for the course. It is open to anyone who wishes to register. The online video lectures can be started and stopped on whatever timeline is convenient for each student. And the course is supported by an interactive website with resources, exercises and communication portals.

“We spend so much of our lives at work,” said Raghunathan. “It makes sense for us to do everything we can to maximize how happy we are in our jobs.”

This is the first online course that McCombs is offering in collaboration with edX, with a number of others soon to be launched.

Raghunathan is the Zale Centennial Professor of Business at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York TimesFortune, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Inc., and Fast Company. He writes about happiness and leadership in a blog for Psychology Today called Sapient Nature. His book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? was published in 2016 and has been translated into 13 languages. His TED Talk has been viewed by more than 17 million people worldwide.

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For more information about Raghunathan’s work, read these McCombs Big Ideas feature stories or view the McCombs video Top Five Ways to Be Happier at Work.

For more information, contact Molly Dannenmaier at molly.dannenmaier@mccombs.utexas.edu or 512-232-6779.

6 ways to overcome the holiday blues

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Charlie Brown might have said it best as he opined to his pal, Linus: “Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

Yes, the holiday season can foster moments of great joy, but it can also at times be a source of distress.

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Whether you’re worried about purchasing the right mix of decorations to create the perfect atmosphere for a Thanksgiving meal, or finding a way to connect with family members who live on the opposite coast, the holidays can be tricky to navigate.

It’s easy, especially in our increasingly social media-driven world, to “compare and despair,” says Dr. Michelle Paul, psychologist and director of The PRACTICE Mental Health Clinic at UNLV.

“It’s difficult to tear ourselves away from constant messages of what they’re doing and what we’re, in turn, not doing,” Paul said. 

As pumpkin pies bake, and grocery stores line their shelves with peppermint-flavored treats, Paul explained the sources of holiday blues that can sometimes affect us, and shared some practical ways to greet this time of year.

What causes holiday stress?

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There are a number of things about the holidays that can potentially be sources of distress. For each person it’s going to be different, but there are some general themes that we can reliably predict.

  • Loss of a loved one: If someone has lost a loved one, that loss can be made all the more poignant, and experienced more deeply, around the holidays. The holidays generally represent a time where family and friends get together, and enjoy each other’s company, so having lost someone can create distress.
  • Materialism: In our culture, the holidays represent a focus on having gifts and possessions. There is marketing around how the Thanksgiving table ‘should’ be set, and how the holiday decorations inside and outside of our homes ‘should’ appear. However, not everyone has the means to make extra purchases, setting the stage for comparing and judging others or ourselves negatively for ‘failing’ to keep up.
  • Hustle and bustle: Rushing to make sure I have the right groceries, the perfect gift for that someone special, and the best decorations, is magnified during the holidays. It’s difficult to find a balance around celebrating in a way that’s meaningful, and not getting caught up in a long to-do list.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: If your circumstances don’t match the cultural ideal of a Norman Rockwell painting, your mind tends to go to a place of judgment. And with judgment comes shame. You start thinking, ‘What’s wrong with me that I can’t have it the way they do?’

How does social media contribute to holiday stress?

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Social media is supposed to help us connect. But the unintended consequences of social media include increased stress, isolation, and a decreased sense of belonging. It’s had this weird, paradoxical effect of giving us this ongoing, never-ending opportunity to look in the mirror and compare ourselves to others. We’re constantly bombarded through our phones, with young people being particularly vulnerable to the pressures of social media. 

As an adolescent, you’re figuring out who you are and where you fit in. It’s a time when friendships are very important and meaningful, and you begin to build relationships outside of your family. Today, teens are also being asked to manage these social media messages about what is cool and not cool, and you can’t get away from it. You could escape it 40 years ago. You could go home and take a break from whatever drama was going on at school, or what a classmate wore to class and what you didn’t. 

As human beings, we naturally want to find where we feel in, instead of out, where we belong and feel connected. The holidays add another layer of that, with strong messages that circulate around us for months in advance.

What are some tips that can help people cope with these and other holiday stressors?

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  • Determine your values: Step back and think intentionally about what you want the holidays to represent. Who do you want to be in relation to the holidays? What kind of values do you want to connect to? Once you make that determination, you can behave in accordance with those values. 
  • Act on your values: Behaving in ways that are consistent with your values is more important than making comparisons or judgments. Thanksgiving, for example, is all about being thankful for what you have. And there are lots of activities around Thanksgiving that wouldn’t require spending a ton of money. Maybe on that day, you can take a walk in nature in order to contemplate or spend time appreciating what you have. If you’re missing family members, why not do a Friendsgiving? Enjoy food and company and embrace the fact that you’re a ragtag team of people spending time together. Or, go out and volunteer. If you’re feeling that you’re not receiving, why not do the opposite and do some giving?
  • Avoid compare and despair: Have self-compassion. You can compare, but you don’t have to add in the layer of judgment. If someone’s reality is different than yours, that’s OK! Stop “shoulding” all over yourself, and stop using damaging or punishing language. Instead of saying, ‘I should do this,’ or ‘I must do that,’ you could try, ‘I preferably should.’ Be mindful of your own mental chatter and the automatic tendency to go toward punishing language.
  • Make connections: Focus on creating space for belonging or acceptance. Find places where you can receive support, but also give support in return. Reach out to others. Think about worth, value, and appreciation versus the enemies of comparison, judgment, shaming, blaming, and pushing people away.
  • Take stock: Take an inventory of what your individual sources of stress are because it’s different for everybody. Ask yourself: If I could change one or two things to feel better, what would they be? Do some active problem solving. If you lost a loved one, for example, celebrate that person’s life, or change up what might have been a holiday routine with that person. Make room for it to not be a happy time — it’s OK if it’s not a happy time. 
  • Seek help: If you’re really feeling that you can’t cope with the stressors around you, it’s perfectly reasonable to reach out to others, or even a mental health professional. Sometimes we get muddled in our own brains, and an outside perspective from a trusted mental health practitioner can help provide you with clarity and relief. 
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About The PRACTICE

The PRACTICE is a UNLV mental health clinic that offers counseling and other services to campus and community members. Faculty experts in clinical and school psychology and mental health counseling train and supervise advanced graduate students in high-quality mental and behavioral health care. Faculty and student clinicians work together to provide evidence-based care, drawing upon the most up-to-date research and knowledge available.

iPads and Teens with Autism

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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.

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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.

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“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.

Parents Left in the Cold When It Comes to Kids with Autism

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First-line health professionals must vastly improve their communication and engagement with parents if they are to help address the growing prevalence of autism among children, say researchers from the University of South Australia.

Undertaking a meta-synthesis of 22 international studies, researchers consolidated the voices of 1178 parents advocating for their children with autism, finding that parents feel ignored and dismissed by medical practitioners as they navigate initial concerns for their child, further investigations, and finally, a formal diagnosis of autism.

Researchers say that medical practitioners need to adopt a family-focused approach to ensure that parents’ concerns, perspectives and observations are taken seriously so that their child has appropriate and timely access to early intervention services.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a persistent developmental disorder characterised by social difficulties, restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour, and impaired communication skills. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, with early signs often evident from early childhood.

Autism is one of the most prevalent developmental conditions among children, with one in 70 people in Australia on the spectrum, an estimated 40 per cent increase over the past four years. Internationally, statistics are higher with one in 59 children on the spectrum.

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UniSA lead researcher, Dr Kobie Boshoff, says the parent advocacy role is critical and must be taken more seriously by medical practitioners.

“Parents are natural advocates for their child, making them an invaluable source of information when it comes to complex diagnoses for invisible disabilities like autism,” Dr Boshoff says.

“Yet parents are increasingly finding the diagnosis process overly stressful and complicated.

“In this study, parents commonly reported their concerns for their child were not being heard or taken seriously by medical professionals. They said they felt confused, stressed and frustrated at the lack of support and understanding.

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“They also reported lengthy delays in receiving a diagnosis for their child, as well as a variety of unsatisfactory explanations as alternatives to autism. As access to early intervention services is essential for improving the development outcomes of children with autism, this too is unacceptable.”

Dr Boshoff says first-line medical professionals and service providers must recognise both the role of parents as advocates for their child, and the importance of the parent-practitioner role, which can significantly impact future relationships with other professionals.

She says to build trust medical practitioners must reassess the way they talk and engage with parents.

“First line health professionals and diagnostic services must ensure emotional support is provided to parents throughout the diagnosis process, engaging parents as partners and taking their concerns seriously,” Dr Boshoff says.

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“Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong developmental condition. A positive experience in the early stages of diagnosis can deliver better relationships with future professionals, and most importantly, secure better outcomes for the children.”

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Media: Annabel Mansfield: office +61 8 8302 0351 | mobile: +61 417 717 504 email: Annabel.Mansfield@unisa.edu.au Lead Researcher: Dr Kobie Boshoff office: +61 8 830 21089 | kobie.boshoff@unisa.edu.au

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Dr Kobie Boshoff will also be presenting this topic at the Healthy Development Adelaide event ‘Research and Developments in Autism: A SA Perspective.’ On Wednesday 30 October 2019, rom 5:30pm – 8:00pm. This is a free event open to everyone.

Halloween Costumes at Work?

Halloween is a dicey time of year for managers and employees alike. A well-planned celebration can boost morale, energize the staff, and help to build connections between co-workers. But an inappropriate costume, or a party that goes off the rails, can damage reputations and even lead to terminations and legal problems.

Jessica Methot, an associate professor of human resource management in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR), separates the tricks from the treats.

When is it OK to wear a costume to work?

Employees should only wear a Halloween costume if company leadership has clearly communicated an invitation to do so. If you have recently joined the company and you are not yet familiar with its culture and policies, ask multiple sources for advice (including your boss). Don’t rely on just one co-worker for guidance. An office jokester may try to trick you into dressing up when no one else does.

If you do wear a costume, bring a change of clothes to work if you expect to have any meetings or videoconferences with external stakeholders. If you know the client personally and you have established an informal relationship, the costume could be appropriate and funny. But meeting a new client dressed as the Charlie Chaplin might not set the most professional tone.

Which costumes are too risqué for the office?

Some employees see dressing up as an opportunity to “bring their whole selves to work”—a chance to express an aspect of their identity typically left at home. But this can be tricky.

Company leadership and HR managers should communicate their policy on costumes and props (including fake guns and knives). Generally speaking, avoid anything that may be interpreted as too revealing, provocative, politically-charged, or inappropriate for a professional setting. Not sure? Check with HR.

Beyond what you wear to the office, it’s also important to think about what you post on social media. We often forget how much our professional contacts can see about us online. Posting a picture of yourself wearing a risqué costume can blur personal and professional boundaries.

What are the consequences for going overboard?

Wearing an inappropriate costume can damage your professional image. In extreme cases, it could even pose legal and safety risks.

Workplace violence is a very real issue today. If your costume includes a weapon and you joke about hurting people, your co-workers may disagree with the humor and find it threatening. They could take legal action against the organization for allowing a hostile work environment.

A provocative or revealing costume raises concerns about sexual harassment, especially in the heightened awareness of the #MeToo era. You could be disciplined if your outfit violates company guidelines. Co-workers who make sexually-explicit remarks, or engage in other harassing behaviors toward you, could face serious consequences including termination.

Importantly, companies must be careful not to victim-blame. Discipline should not be framed as though the employee wearing the revealing costume “invited” the comments or was at fault for being on the receiving end.

The bottom line? HR must enforce costume guidelines consistently across the workforce and the discipline should always fit the infraction.

Is there an upside for employers?

Absolutely. Despite these risks, there is a good business case for throwing Halloween celebrations and welcoming costumes.

If implemented strategically, they can strengthen the company’s culture, reinforce its emphasis on fun, improve employee relationships, and even boost employee well-being and productivity. Celebrations give employees a chance to recharge, which also spills over into improved life and family satisfaction. In the long run, these types of celebrations, and a “fun” organizational culture, can help attract new employees, improve employee commitment, and reduce turnover rates.

However, it is important to align these celebrations with the organizational culture. A fun work environment is defined by consistent access to workplace activities, games, and group outings. If a Halloween celebration is an isolated event, it might be perceived as a superficial attempt at engaging employees.

Contact: To schedule an interview with Jessica Methot, please contact Steve Flamisch at 848.252.9011 (cell) or steve.flamisch@smlr.rutgers.edu.

Broadcast Interviews: Rutgers University–New Brunswick has broadcast-quality TV and radio studios available for remote live or taped interviews