ISS supporting faculty research projects, conference

From analyzing how labor policies contributed to rapid economic growth in Europe in the 1950s to testing the therapeutic value of virtual reality technology, Cornell social science research projects are receiving assistance from the Institute for the Social Sciences’ (ISS) Small Grants Program.

“We like to support critical social science projects that lack alternative sources of external funding or need a jump-start with pilot funding,” said Daniel T. Lichter, the Robert S. Harrison Director of the ISS and professor of policy analysis and management, and sociology.

The ISS recently announced the awardees for the spring 2017 competition. Held each semester, the program awards Cornell faculty members up to $12,000 for research and $5,000 for conferences.

“This round we are assisting Cornell faculty in four colleges as well as the ILR School,” said Lichter.

Murillo Campello, professor of finance, and Matthew Baron, assistant professor of finance, both at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, are using financial statements from more than 400 well-known European firms in the automotive, pharmaceutical, electronics and heavy metals industries from 1950 to 1973 to build a publicly available database. They plan to use the database to assess the extent to which labor policies affected the rapid economic growth in Europe from 1950 to 1960.

Jamila Michener, assistant professor of government, is delving into reasons for the justice gap – the difference between the level of legal assistance necessary to meet the needs of low-income Americans and the level of legal assistance that is actually available. Focusing on civil legal representation, which is not a Constitutional right, Michener will explore the political causes and consequences of unequal access to the protections of civil law.

“Civil law protects vital aspects of daily life: housing, health care, finances and family all fall under this domain. Like other foundational American institutions, civil legal structures are deeply unequal, not by accident, but because of political processes. Understanding how this happens and how it might be changed is crucial for our democracy,” said Michener.

Four Cornell faculty members in the Department of Communication – assistant professors Brooke Erin Duffy and Andrea Stevenson Won, associate professor Lee Humphreys and professor Katherine McComas – are receiving support.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with current and former social media workers, Duffy is taking a closer look at who is actually creating the tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram images that propel media and marketing companies.

“While a significant portion of labor in the digital media economy has been rendered invisible, I hope to spotlight systematic hierarchies, workplace inequalities and processes of exploitation,” she said.

Humphreys is updating her 2005 research – the first U.S.-based observational field study of mobile phone use in public. In the intervening years, smartphones with internet capacity and apps are now ubiquitous – 77 percent of the population has a smartphone. Humphreys plans to use observational and interview methods to evaluate behavior in public spaces in Philadelphia, including civility norms, impacts on face-to-face interactions and changes since 2005.

Stevenson Won is testing whether two people communicating with head-mounted virtual reality technology devices experience similar closeness as people do when communicating via text. The results have implications for the therapeutic use of immersive social media.

“If people feel removed from their current location when they feel socially connected with a distant conversation partner, this can improve the use of virtual reality for pain, among other applications,” she said.

Efforts to support conservation of North American bats face the dual challenges of protecting a species that is suffering from a deadly disease and is a source of public health risk. McComas, along with T. Bruce Lauber and Heidi Kretser, both in natural resources, are using an online survey to assess message strategies.

Emily Zitek in the ILR School’s Department of Organizational Behavior, wants to find out why people tend to view positive events as fair, even when they view similar negative events as unfair. She also plans to see how to change people’s minds so that they view positive, undeserved events as unfair. Aside from contributing to the fields of psychology and organizational behavior, by getting people to view certain positive outcomes as unfair, her research may motivate people to resolve the injustice on behalf of the less fortunate.

Using experimental social psychology, computational modeling and neuroimaging, Amy Krosch in psychology is examining how peer influence in a group context promotes discriminatory behaviors toward minorities.

Hyuncheol Bryant Kim in policy analysis and management, along with graduate students Yaeeun Han and Seollee Park, are looking at the impacts of nutritional behavior-change communication, food vouchers, peers and increased market access to nutritious foods on the food choices mothers in Ethiopian villages make for children from 2 to 4 months old.

Zhuan Pei, also in policy analysis and management, received assistance for his research project, Further Education During Unemployment.

The ISS is supporting The Farm to Plate Conference: Uniting to Create, Educate, and Celebrate a Sustainable and Equitable Local Food System in Ithaca and surrounding locations, from May 11-13. Rachel Bezner-Kerr in development sociology is co-organizing the conference, along with collaborator Noliwe Rooks in Africana studies, and others.

Applications for the fall 2017 ISS small grant competition are due Sept. 12.

Lori Sonken is the staff writer at the Institute for the Social Sciences.

This article originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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