Winter 2023 Newsletter | Research Highlights

Allies, Traitors, or Obstacles?: How Attitudes Toward Political Moderates Shape Political Polarization in the United States

Kumove, H. A., Li, C., Rovenpor, D., Young, K., L., Hirschberger, G., and Leidner, B.

Heather Kumove
Heather Kumove

Political polarization strongly characterizes the political landscape in the United States. The growing political divide in the United States caused by extreme political polarization has serious consequences for political discourse, support for democratic norms, and support for political violence. Due to the severity of the consequences of political polarization, work needs to explore potential strategies to reduce polarization. This project aims to explore whether partisans' attitudes and perceptions of political moderates can predict attitudes toward the political outgroup. Further, this project will explore whether positive attitudes toward political moderates can reduce affective polarization (a tendency of Republicans or Democrats to view opposing partisans negatively and co-partisans positively) and increase positive attitudes toward the political opposition. Data from these studies will inform research on political polarization and may suggest a novel form of intervention to reduce polarization, by expanding the perceptual political landscape from a binary to a spectrum.

Political Polarization Over Trust in Science

scale with microscope on one side and politcal parties on otherCrystal Li is a high school senior who has been working in Dr. Bernhard Leidner’s War and Peace Lab for two and a half years. During that time, graduate student Heather Kumove has been her mentor and worked closely with her on several projects. In addition, Li has begun to work on her own independent research projects with Dr. Leidner and Dr. Kevin Young, associate professor of economics, looking at epistemological beliefs and political polarization. Last year, she presented some of the lab’s research at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Convention. This year, she will present her independent research project at the SPSP Convention; also presenting the lab’s research that explores partisans’ attitudes toward political moderates at the Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention. 

“I am working with Dr. Kevin Young on a project investigating political polarization over science. We are analyzing how partisan biases can influence individuals’ trust in scientific research claims and how epistemological beliefs about science (i.e., a person’s understanding of the acquisition, validity, and scope of scientific knowledge) predict trust in science as a whole. Our research will provide insight into how issues such as climate change and vaccine safety become politically divisive,” says Li.

John Donahoe Gives Inaugural Lectures Sponsored by Barrett Behavior-Analytic Neuroscience Initiative

Professor Emeritus John Donahoe gave the inaugural lectures sponsored by the Barrett Behavior-Analytic Neuroscience Initiative at the Health Science Center of the University of North Texas. The first lecture described conceptual issues and behavioral findings consistent with the Unified Reinforcement Principle. This principle proposes that the behavioral changes produced by both Pavlovian and operant contingencies are the result of a common conditioning process. The second lecture described neural and cellular processes that implement the Unified Reinforcement Principle and some of their implications for more complex behavior. Audio-visual files of both lectures are available here.

COVID-19 Related Negative Emotions and Emotional Suppression Are Associated With Greater Risk Perceptions Among Emergency Nurses: A Cross-Sectional Study

Nathan R. Huff, Guanyu Liu, Hannah Chimowitz, Kelly T. Gleason, and Linda M. Isbell

Nathan Huff
Nathan Huff

Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline nurses experienced many emotions as they faced risks to both patients and themselves. Although healthcare provider emotions are often neglected in the medical literature, these emotions may impact perceptions of risk, which can impact medical decision making. In a cross-sectional study, emergency nurses’ covid-related negative emotions and their tendency to engage in emotional suppression were associated with greater perceptions of risk. Findings suggest that addressing negative emotions and maladaptive coping strategies may be key intervention targets to reduce safety risks to patients and nurses, while also increasing nurse well-being.

Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms in a Community Sample of Sexually and Gender Diverse Adults

Dominic Denning
Dominic Denning

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a highly stigmatized mental health concern with epidemiological studies suggesting increasing prevalence rates. However, there is a dearth of literature regarding the prevalence of BPD in marginalized communities. Graduate student Dominic Denning recently published a study in the Journal of Personality Disorders, examining BPD symptoms and probable diagnoses in a sample of sexual minority and gender diverse adults (N = 218). Consistent with this aim, researchers examined whether experiences of discrimination and trauma associated with one’ sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e., distal minority stressors) were associated with higher BPD symptoms. While experiences of distal minority stressors were positively associated with BPD symptoms, they did not maintain when controlling for putative risk factors for BPD. Future studies will need to investigate whether proximal stressors and within-group processes (e.g., intraminority stress) are associated with BPD symptom severity, as well as examining interaction effects between minority stressors and transdiagnostic processes that potentiate BPD symptoms. Finally, a thorough investigation of resiliency factors should be prioritized in future studies as these findings may inform prevention.

How a Parent’s Experience at Work Impacts Their Kids

by Maureen Perry-Jenkins

father carries young son on shoulders at the beach

Many employers are increasingly cognizant of the ways in which employees’ experiences on the job can impact their lives outside of work. But what about the lives of their children? Through a longitudinal study that followed more than 370 low-wage, working-class families over more than ten years, the author found that children’s developmental outcomes were directly and significantly affected by their parents’ work lives. Read more

Research Findings Show Older Adults Live Longer in Counties With More Age Bias

a number of older adults pose in group photo

Older adults living in counties with greater age bias had better health outcomes than those living in areas with less age bias, according to University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers, who were surprised at the findings.

“Quite the opposite of what we expected emerged,” says Allecia Reid, associate professor of social psychology and senior author of the paper published in the journal Social Science & Medicine. “Rather than dying earlier in counties with more negative attitudes toward older adults, we found in fact that older adults were living longer in counties with more negative attitudes towards older adults.” Read more

The Clock Is Ticking: UMass Amherst Researchers to Investigate the Role of Circadian Rhythms in Tissue Engineering

alarm clock sits on bedside table

Five-year, $1.91 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will explore optimizing tissue regeneration by incorporating biological rhythms in lab studies. Read more

Can a Woman’s Health During Pregnancy Reveal a Risk for Cardiovascular Disease and Depression Later in Life?

child uses stethoscope on woman's pregnant belly

UMass Amherst epidemiologist Lisa Chasan-Taber, along with neuroscientist collaborators Rebecca Spencer and Jerrold Meyer, will continue research that aims to understand how physical and mental health during pregnancy can help predict cardiovascular and mental health disorders in middle age. Read more

Young Child's Brain, Not Age, Determines Nap Transitions, Research Suggests

children napping in a preschool

UMass Amherst sleep scientist develops new theory about when and why kids stop napping. Why do some 4- and 5-year-olds still nap like clockwork every afternoon, while other preschoolers start giving up habitual napping at age 3? Read more

Free Guide to Cultivating Contact Between Different Groups Authored by UMass Amherst Psychologists

illustration of people drawing lines between each other

Social psychologist Linda Tropp and doctoral student Trisha Dehrone in Tropp’s Intergroup Relations and Social Justice Lab collaborated with the nonprofits American Immigration Council and Welcoming America to author a new publication – “Cultivating Contact: A Guide to Building Bridges and Meaningful Connections Between Groups.” Read more