Tag: Research

Reframing The Issue of School Segregation

Megan Hopkins

Assistant Professor Megan Hopkins, PhD, UIC College of Education

School segregation was outlawed more than 60 years ago, but any visitor to a Chicago Public School will observe that the vast majority of students are either Black, Latino, or White.

UIC College of Education’s  Megan Hopkins, PhD, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, is seeking to reframe the issue of school integration and equity in her new co-edited book, “School Integration Matters: Research-Based Strategies to Advance Equity.” She and her co-editors, Erica Frankenberg and Liliana Garces, associate professors of education at the Pennsylvania State University, argue that race should be a central consideration in school reform efforts, spanning from preschool to higher education.

“Some teachers say, ‘I don’t see color,’ but without seeing color you aren’t seeing the assets students bring to your classroom and use them to think critically about your curriculum to see if it reflects students’ experiences,” Hopkins said. “We can’t support equitable schooling for students if we don’t explicitly take up race in our discussions.”

Hopkins’ book challenges such colorblindness from the individual classroom all the way to the Supreme Court, where Hopkins says decisions have historically revolved around color-blind ideologies, for instance in its interpretation of affirmative action. She cites court decisions that limit or eliminate the ability of public schools and colleges to take race into account in their student assignment and admissions practices. While schools have turned to socioeconomic status as a proxy, Hopkins says the result is schools are skirting the real issue of structural and institutional racism prevalent in society.

The book also shows that prevailing explorations of school segregation, which focus on populations of Black and White students, need to be updated to reflect the current make up of the US student population. Within-school segregation is also an issue that needs attention, as the book reveals that, even in schools serving Black, Latino, and Asian populations, language programs and culturally-relevant practices can implicitly privilege certain groups of students.

Hopkins’ chapter of the book, which was co-authored with Rebecca Lowenhaupt, assistant professor of educational leadership at Boston College, illustrates how school organizational structures must be considered when supporting within school integration. In examining learning opportunities for immigrant students, and particularly English language learners, Hopkins and Lowenhaupt found that the extent to which language and content was integrated for ELLs varied by the school subject, with English as a second language curriculum embedded in language arts, but largely kept separate in the area of mathematics. Another chapter by the College’s P. Zitlali Morales, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, and Aria Razfar, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, describes how dual language educational programs can be an approach to supporting integration among students and across subject areas, as well as among parents and families.

The book also discusses how schools and policymakers can support integration efforts: the federal government could offer an integration checklist, while higher education institutions could draw on community engaged scholarship and service learning opportunities to bring diverse communities together in the classroom.

“We as an educational community spend a lot of time talking about access and equity, but can we achieve access and equity without integrating our schools and providing opportunities for students to work across racial and ethnic lines?” Hopkins said.

By Rob Schroeder

Potential Vaccine For Herpes Being Developed


Zinc oxide tetrapod nanoparticles. Credit: Deepak Shukla

An effective vaccine against the virus that causes genital herpes has evaded researchers for decades. But now, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago working with scientists from Germany have shown that zinc-oxide nanoparticles shaped like jacks can prevent the virus from entering cells, and help natural immunity to develop.

Results of the study are published in The Journal of Immunology.

“We call the virus-trapping nanoparticle a microbivac, because it possesses both microbicidal and vaccine-like properties,” says corresponding author Deepak Shukla, professor of ophthalmology and microbiology & immunology in the UIC College of Medicine. “It is a totally novel approach to developing a vaccine against herpes, and it could potentially also work for HIV and other viruses,” he said.

The particles could serve as a powerful active ingredient in a topically-applied vaginal cream that provides immediate protection against herpes virus infection while simultaneously helping stimulate immunity to the virus for long-term protection, explained Shukla.

Herpes simplex virus-2, which causes serious eye infections in newborns and immunocompromised patients as well as genital herpes, is one of the most common human viruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15 percent of people from ages 14-49 carry HSV-2, which can hide out for long periods of time in the nervous system. The genital lesions caused by the virus increase the risk for acquiring human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

“Your chances of getting HIV are three to four times higher if you already have genital herpes, which is a very strong motivation for developing new ways of preventing herpes infection,” Shukla said.

Treatments for HSV-2 inczoten-Mechanism2-590x393lude daily topical medications to suppress the virus and shorten the duration of outbreaks, when the virus is active and genital lesions are present. However, drug resistance is common, and little protection is provided against further infections. Efforts to develop a vaccine have been unsuccessful because the virus does not spend much time in the bloodstream, where most traditional vaccines do their work.

The tetrapod-shaped zinc-oxide nanoparticles, called ZOTEN, have negatively charged surfaces that attract the HSV-2 virus, which has positively charged proteins on its outer envelope. ZOTEN nanoparticles were synthesized using technology developed by material scientists at Germany’s Kiel University and protected under a joint patent with UIC.

When bound to the nanoparticles, HSV-2 cannot infect cells. But the bound virus remains susceptible to processing by immune cells called dendritic cells that patrol the vaginal lining. The dendritic cells “present” the virus to other immune cells that produce antibodies. The antibodies cripple the virus and trigger the production of customized killer cells that identify infected cells and destroy them before the virus can take over and spread.

The researchers showed that female mice swabbed with HSV-2 and an ointment containing ZOTEN had significantly fewer genital lesions than mice treated with a cream lacking ZOTEN. Mice treated with ZOTEN also had less inflammation in the central nervous system, where the virus can hide out.

The researchers were able to watch immune cells pry the virus off the nanoparticles for immune processing, using high-resolution fluorescence microscopy.

“It’s very clear that ZOTEN facilitates the development of immunity by holding the virus and letting the dendritic cells get to it,” Shukla said.

If found safe and effective in humans, a ZOTEN-containing cream ideally would be applied vaginally just prior to intercourse, Shukla said. But if a woman who had been using it regularly missed an application, he said, she may have already developed some immunity and still have some protection. Shukla hopes to further develop the nanoparticles to work against HIV, which like HSV-2 also has positively charged proteins embedded in its outer envelope.

ZOTEN particles are uniform in size and shape, making them attractive for use in other biomedical applications. The novel flame transport synthesis technology used to make them allows large-scale production, said Rainer Adelung, professor of nanomaterials at Kiel University. And, because no chemicals are used, the production process is green.

Adelung hopes to begin commercial production of ZOTEN through a startup company that will be run jointly with his colleagues at UIC.

Co-authors on the study are Bellur Prabhakar, Tibor Valyi-Nagy, Thessicar Antoine, Satvik Hadigal, Abraam Yakoub, Palash Bhattacharya, and Christine Haddad of UIC and Yogendra Kumar Mishra of Kiel University. The research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants AI103754 and EY001792 and German Research Foundation grant Ad/183/10-1.

By Sharon Parmet


College of Education Fellow Helping CPS Students Analyze Water Safety in Chicago

The Flint water crisis has generated conversations about the marginalization of low-income Americans at the hands of far-removed government officials. The flip side of this discourse is the opportunity to strengthen citizen scientists to investigate and advocate on issues of environmental degradation in their own communities.

At CPS North Grand High School, Mindy Chappell is exploring how lessons on the Flint water crisis foster student learning via autonomously generating research questions and hypotheses and collecting, analyzing and explaining data. As a Master Teaching Fellow with the UIC College of Education’s Project SEEEC (Science Education for Excellence and Equity in Chicago), she is engaged in a teacher inquiry project examining the practices that support her culturally relevant, cooperative, inquiry-based content-rich science class.

“You have all these buzzwords out there, but you need a method for how to do that in a classroom when you have to keep in mind curriculum and standards,” Chappell (below) said. “I’m pushing for higher-order thinking questions, not rote memorization. My students know that I want them to be able to think critically about a phenomenon and seek relevant explanations on their own.”

Before the Flint situation unfolded, Chappell’s students completed a case study which investigated differences between tap water and bottled water as part of their ecology unit. The original lesson called for students to classify a man-made abiotic factor (water bottles, cars, houses, paper, etc.) and create a research presentation on its environmental impact. The Flint crisis represented an opportunity for a real-world inquiry-based research on an issue that was relatively close to home for Chappell’s students.

After researching and discussing the Flint problem, students formulated their own research questions involving water. Some students focused on lead, but Chappell stressed students’ autonomy in generating their research questions was a key tactic in fostering critical thinking skills. Each project needed to connect back to the Flint crisis in some manner.

Students explored whether boiling water reduced or eliminated lead content, since boil orders are issued when communities face a water pollution problem. Other groups examined how an efficient water filter could be constructed. Another explored whether chemical inputs could remove lead content.

Evaluation of the projects targeted students’ ability to use claims and supporting evidence to explain what happened in their experiment. They also needed to provide a warrant, an explanation of why their supporting evidence is valid and how it supports their claim. Students needed to determine how limitations and unaccounted factors might have affected the validity and reliability of their data and influence the explanation of their results.

“It’s critical not to stop at the surface level such as, ‘My hypothesis is valid because the data shows it is,’” Chappell said. “If my students are going to be able to compete with students from other areas in citywide science fairs, they need to be able to explicitly explain how evidence led to their conclusion, any limitations to their research or experimental setup, any possible experimental errors, and be prepared to answer questions about alternative explanations of their data.”

Chappell says inquiry-based design methods strengthen student learning of scientific practices from asking questions and determining a purpose to collecting data to constructing explanations and the meanings of observations. She says students sometimes default to the expert in the room—the teacher—to hash out the tough answers on the whys and hows, but she avoids providing these to her students.

This science classroom on Chicago’s west side includes diverse learners, English language learners and students with individualized education plans. Chappell says this inquiry-based approach requires some modifications and accommodations, but teachers need to present diverse learners with the same opportunity to explore their own questions.

In investigating the Flint crisis, for example, she prepared three modified versions of the lesson, but only one group needed a modified version. All students began the inquiry investigation design phase similarly with Chappell providing scaffolds, modifications and accommodations only as needed. She says this strategy removes limitations on student questioning and does not stifle creativity with experimental design.

“Some people say, ‘These students can’t,’ but I want them to know they can,” Chappell said. “Will it be challenging? Yes. Will you want to quit? Yes. However, that’s where I come in. We all face challenges, but when you are done the beauty in all the hard work you put in overcoming will be so amazing, it will make those challenging experiences worth it.”

By Robert Schroeder

UIC Lecturer Leading Early Childhood Taskforce


Catherine Main, senior lecturer and coordinator of the MEd Early Childhood Education program within the UIC College of Education

Early childhood education is one of few issues that crosses the partisan divide. Federal Race to the Top funding encourages early childhood education funding and expansion, while liberal mayors such as Bill de Blasio and conservative governors such as Bruce Rauner all champion pre-K access.

As pre-K seats expand and are filled, the next step in ramping up early childhood education quality is defining the meaning of quality in the early childhood workforce. Catherine Main, senior lecturer and coordinator of the MEd Early Childhood Education program within the UIC College of Education, is leading statewide and national efforts to examine how to strengthen and support the early childhood workforce.

“We have spent a lot of effort and money in early childhood education focusing on the young children, but we haven’t always thought about the people working with the young children in a cohesive manner,” Main said. “Right now different systems have different competencies, standards and benchmarks for the workforce, so we need to move toward a cohesive system of competency-based qualifications for everyone working with young children and their families.”

In Illinois, Main is leading a task force funded through a grant by the McCormick Foundation to examine the Illinois early childhood workforce. The task force’s work is taking place in conjunction with national efforts led by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The NAS published a report on “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation” and started a new program called Innovation to Incubation (i2I) composed of four statewide groups examining the workforce issue on the national level. The group is reviewing and analyzing the IOM recommendations for implementation in Illinois.

In February, Main and the Illinois team attended a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. with counterparts from Washington state, California, and the Capitol region comprising Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, starting work on a strategic plan to implement recommendations from the Transforming the Workforce report back in each state and region.

Main says the teams focused on connecting the many existing state initiatives on workforce to the IOM recommendations, but also brought to light the lack of coherent data systems and policies to study and support the current early childhood workforce. Given that the workforce is divided among traditional teachers, Head Start teachers, early childhood center employees and in-home caregivers, determining baseline metrics across these groups is challenging. In particular, these disparate groups often represent differing levels of educational attainment. For example, in Illinois, a Bachelor’s degree and a state teaching license is required for preschool educators in public schools, a bachelor’s degree only to work in Head Start centers, and a minimum of early childhood course hours in child care centers.

Main says she is excited for the possibility of developing shared competencies across Illinois for educators who work with young children, regardless of role or type of program. Teacher assistants, lead teachers and center directors could be hired and evaluated with consistency to better ensure equitable quality across the state.

By Rob Schroeder

Student Research Forum Showcases Top Talent

Student Research Forum

Jasmine Lopez, an undergraduate in biological sciences, presents her research on reversing retinal ischemic injuries. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Students’ hard work came to fruition April 12 as they presented their projects at the Student Research Forum.

Nearly 300 students showed off their work at the UIC Forum, judged by 300 faculty and alumni judges.

Students from all disciplines were invited to present their work individually to judges and others during a three-hour presentation session, which was followed by an awards ceremony.

Senior Jeff Harvey, a physics major, enjoyed discussing his project, which uses physics to try and understand what’s happening on a molecular scale when an ion is extracted from the water into the oil phase.

“It was a great opportunity to get to talk to people that are outside of physics and try to show them why this work is interesting,” he said. “Presenting work in this kind of forum is also a really good test of how well I understand the material myself. Being able to explain things in an accessible manner takes a lot of work, and forces you to really identify the key points of the concepts in order to paint a cohesive and logical picture.”

Ruxandra Griza presented her work on the relationship between food waste and energy and the impact of smart food packaging.

“I’m really into environmental things, especially when it’s considering wasteful behavior not only with food but with plastic waste and water waste,” said Griza, a freshman in earth and environmental sciences.

Dimitra Papadakis, a senior in psychology, focused her research on juror motivation by gender. She conducted a mock jury study that showed that contrary to previous research, women didn’t change their minds more frequently than men.

“All the studies that say that women change their minds were done before the year 2000, so maybe that means that women do not struggle to uphold a position. Maybe there has been a cultural change. Maybe women are more motivated to speak up, so I think that’s pretty cool,” she said.

Sarah Lee, a senior in neuroscience, was happy to fulfill a dream she’s had since freshman year of presenting at the research forum.

“Now since I’m a senior, I feel like I’ve got my nostalgia goggles on, and I just want to enjoy everything as it’s happening,” she said.

View a complete list of award winners online.

By Libby Goldrick


Using Music To Move Through Pain

Music and Pain

College of Nursing faculty Eileen Collins and Ulf Bronas study peripheral artery disease, which makes movement painful. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Music motivates people to get up and move, but does it have the power to encourage people to move even when moving is painful?

UIC researchers from the east and west sides of campus are collaborating on a pilot study to see if music can help patients with peripheral artery disease — which makes movement painful — stick with an exercise regimen.

“We’re trying to find a way to use music to promote exercise and distract from the pain,” said Eileen Collins, professor of the biobehavioral health science in the College of Nursing.

Collins is collaborating on the project with Ulf Bronas, associate professor in the biobehavioral health science department, and Steve Everett, dean of the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts.

Everett, a noted composer, will manipulate the music so that it encourages patients to get moving.

“He’s able to take the artistic part of music and play with it a little and turn it into science to make the brain and the muscles work together in ways that we don’t think about,” Collins said.

Music Pain 2

Steve Everett, dean of the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Participants in the pilot study will be patients from the University of Illinois Hospital and the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital who suffer from peripheral artery disease, a condition that causes claudication — a cramping, painful feeling in the legs.


“These patients are limited to walking half a block to a block before they experience significant leg pain,” Bronas said. “They have to stop and rest three to five minutes, then the pain goes away and they can walk again.”

Age, diabetes and smoking are the major risk factors for the disease, which is improved most effectively through walking. Supervised exercise programs help relieve pain, Collins said, but these programs often are not reimbursed by insurance.

“Patients essentially are told to go home and walk, and they don’t do it because it’s painful,” Collins said.

Researchers aim to create a home-based exercise regimen that participants can stick with on their own.

“We are encouraging walking at home to see if the music makes a difference in how far people walk without pain,” Collins said.

“We want to really empower individuals to take charge of their own health care,” Bronas added.

Everett will create playlists based on musical genres that the participants enjoy and manipulate songs to encourage them to walk.

“We can use music as a way to lessen the pain in certain patients,” Everett said.

The researchers plan to complete the pilot study this summer and submit grant proposals in the fall for a larger study.

Their collaboration was formed by chance when Collins met Everett at a committee meeting. Collins was filling in for a colleague who couldn’t attend the meeting and started talking to Everett about his work, then later realized his expertise could be helpful as she and Bronas discussed research ideas.

“His experience in music as motivation was perfect,” Bronas said. “Meeting new people throughout campus is really important.”

Music also has medical applications beyond peripheral artery disease, Everett said, such as helping patients with Alzheimer’s recall songs they enjoyed in their childhood.

“There are so many areas where people are trying to understand how music has this ability to work with certain medical conditions,” he said. “There are underlying tones that music is not just something for pleasure; it’s something that’s maybe much more critical for our own psychological health.”

The opportunities for students studying music and sound design are expanding far beyond the traditional prospects of composing concert music and designing sound for theater, Everett said. His students are finding jobs using their musical skills in fields such as computational informatics and sonification, which involves using audio to express data.

“Students are finding work in industries now that really 20 years ago weren’t there,” he said.

Collaborations across disciplines are critical for solving problems, Everett said.

“Ideas are no longer formed in silos,” he said. “Great universities have a way to build conversations across silos.”

By Christy Levy

Pellegrino Joins American Academy of Arts & Sciences


James Pellegrino, co-director of the UIC Learning Sciences Research Institute and distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences, psychology and education

Learning sciences researcher James Pellegrino of the University of Illinois at Chicago has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies and research centers.

Pellegrino, co-director of the UIC Learning Sciences Research Institute and distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences, psychology, and education, is among 213 new members who join some of the world’s most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers and artists, as well as civic, business and philanthropic leaders.

For more than three decades, Pellegrino has produced influential research related to student learning, instruction and assessment. Combining knowledge of cognitive science, assessment, educational technology, instructional practice and educational policy, his work aims to design and deliver new, improved and equitable learning environments.

Throughout his career, he has led large-scale research and development projects for the National Science Foundation, the Institute of Education Sciences and the Office of Naval Research.

Pellegrino’s current research is focused on assessment of student learning in multiple areas of mathematics and science that span kindergarten through college. He was the principal investigator for a NSF grant to the College Board to redesign and improve the Advanced Placement science courses and assessments.

Pellegrino, who came to UIC from Vanderbilt University in 2001, is an American Educational Research Association fellow, a lifetime national associate of the National Academy of Sciences, and a past member of the board on testing and assessment of the National Research Council. In 2007, he was elected to lifetime membership in the National Academy of Education.

The new academy members will be inducted at an Oct. 8 ceremony, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Members of the 2016 class include winners of the Pulitzer Prize and the Wolf Prize; MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships; the Fields Medal; and the Grammy Award and National Book Award. Founded in 1780, the academy is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world.

By Brian Flood

Dr. Doubleday Honored For Teaching Excellence


Dr. Alison Doubleday, Assistant Professor, Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry

The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) has selected Dr. Alison Doubleday, Assistant Professor, Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, as the 2016 ADEA/Colgate-Palmolive Co. Excellence in Teaching Award recipient.

According to a written statement provided by Dr. Richard W. Valachovic, President and CEO of ADEA, “each year, ADEA and the Colgate-Palmolive Co. recognize one dental educator who demonstrates exemplary standards and promotes excellence in dental education through scholarship and innovation.”

Dr. Doubleday was nominated by a UIC College of Dentistry committee consisting of Dean Clark Stanford; Dr. Richard Monahan, Head of Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences; peer faculty; and a student representative.

Dr. Doubleday was also required to provide a personal statement outlining her teaching philosophy, her personal educational development, and her plans for advancing the scholarship of teaching and learning.

“I am incredibly grateful to the nominating committee for their efforts, as I’m sure that I was selected as a result of their generous support,” Dr. Doubleday said.
The award brings a stipend of $2,500.

“I hope to use the funds to support learning for the biomedical sciences at the UIC College of Dentistry,” Dr. Doubleday said. “I intend to invest in resources that will help our students learn the biomedical foundations of dentistry and will allow them to review and apply the biomedical sciences to their clinical practice.”

Dr. Doubleday stressed her gratitude to ADEA and Colgate-Palmolive “for highlighting the important role that dental educators play in supporting and guiding dental students,” she said. “I believe I have a responsibility to my students to do everything I can to help them learn and to assist them along their path to academic and professional success. I take this responsibility very seriously.”

She also expressed her appreciation to her colleagues and the administration at the College, and to the students “for helping me remain curious about the world around me and for constantly inspiring me to try new things.”

Dr. Doubleday received her award at the ADEA Annual Session and Exhibition in Denver in March.

Statin Use Varies Widely among Hispanics At Risk for Heart Disease

pills graphicAdults of different Hispanic/Latino backgrounds in the U.S. who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease vary significantly in their use of widely-prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins even though the drugs could reduce their chance of heart attack or stroke, according to research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The disparities, said lead author Dima Mazen Qato, assistant professor of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy, are due to differences in health insurance.

“Efforts to increase the use of statins, particularly targeting individuals that have already suffered a heart attack or stroke, should include expanding health insurance for all Hispanic/Latino adults that currently lack coverage, regardless of their heritage,” Qato said.

Heart disease is the number-one killer for all Americans, with stroke being the fifth leading cause of death. Cardiovascular disease is increasingly common in the growing and aging U.S. Hispanic/Latino population because of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Statins and aspirin are two of the most prevalent treatment and preventive options.

Investigators discovered statin use was highest among high-risk adults of Puerto Rican descent (33 percent), followed by those of Dominican heritage at 28 percent. The lowest usage was found among those with a Central American background, at 22 percent.

The study is one of the first of its kind to compare the difference in statin and aspirin usage among diverse Hispanic/Latino populations in the U.S.

Results were from 4,139 patients living in the Bronx, New York; Chicago; Miami; and San Diego between 2008 and 2011. Their average age was 52, and about half were women. All were at high risk for heart disease, having already had a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.

Participants underwent a medical examination prior to enrollment and were required to complete a questionnaire about medication use and heart disease history.

According to Qato, one-fourth of Hispanic/Latino adults at high risk took statins and fewer than half (44 percent) took aspirin. Seventeen percent took both. The use of aspirin, which is available without a prescription, was comparable among all Hispanic/Latino groups.

“Efforts to improve statin prescribing in patients likely to benefit are particularly important in patients with a history of heart disease,” Qato said. “Healthcare providers and policy makers should be aware of the role of insurance in the underuse of preventative cardiovascular medications in specific Hispanic/Latino populations.”

Co-authors of the study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, are Todd Lee, Jocelyn Wilder, Donghong Wu and Dr. Martha Daviglus of UIC; Ramon Durazo-Arvizu of Loyola University Chicago; Samantha Reina of the University of Miami; Jianwen Cai and Franklyn Gonzalez of the University of North Carolina; Dr. Gregory Talavera of San Diego State University; and Dr. Robert Ostfeld of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

The Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos was a collaborative study supported by contracts from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to the University of North Carolina (N01-HC65233), the University of Miami (N01-HC65234), the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (N01-HC65235), Northwestern University (N01-HC65236), UIC (HHSN268201300003I) and San Diego State University (N01-HC65237).

The following Institutes/Centers/Offices contribute to the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos through a transfer of funds to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities; the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders; the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and the NIH Institution-Office of Dietary Supplements.

By:  Same Hostettler

Examining The Psychology Behind Partisan Politics


One aspect of Matt Motyl’s research is whether conservatives or liberals are happier. “Conservatives report, but liberals display, greater happiness,” says Motyl, assistant professor of psychology. Photo: Jenny Fontaine

Forget red and blue states, says Matt Motyl. Think red and blue neighborhoods instead.

“People are disproportionately likely to move to another neighborhood to find people who share their values,” said Motyl, an assistant professor of psychology. “So you find red and blue communities.”

He reported that finding for a Salon piece and a book chapter titled “Liberals and conservatives are geographically dividing” in the forthcoming Bridging Ideological Divides.

Speaking of red and blue, Motyl, who is in the psychology department’s social and personality area, wondered which political type more frequently gets the blues.

His answer is in a Science article he co-wrote, “Conservatives report, but liberals display, greater happiness.”

There’s a long research history of conservatives claiming they’re happier than liberals, Motyl said.

But his study of photos in the Congressional Record shows that more right-leaning congressmen flash apparently fake smiles, while liberal congressmen are more likely to display evidently genuine grins.

Also, conservatives more often use sad or negative words when speaking or writing for Twitter.

Motyl’s research was done during the Barack Obama presidency; he opines that conservatives “may be angrier or sadder because they’re not in power.”

One often hears someone say of a particular candidate, “If he wins, I’m moving to Canada.”

It’s hard to find data indicating that anyone follows through on this declaration, Motyl said. “Most people don’t move, but a lot threaten to,” he said.

Some take the threat seriously, though. He noted that Cape Breton Island in British Columbia is advertising to American tourists, “If Trump wins, we welcome you here.” Fox News dubbed it “the land of the flee.”

Research by Motyl and five colleagues showed that underlining climate change gives a boost to support for peace-making.

In Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, they argued that it’s possible “to get people to set aside their differences to work against something that affects everybody,” Motyl said.

In the case of global climate change, “that’s exactly what we found” when looking at right-wing Israelis and Palestinians living alongside them, he said.

On the other hand, he added, climate change might result in scarcer resources, with countries competing for them.

Examining such claims as “Virginia is for lovers,” Motyl and a colleague questioned whether “geographical or regional characteristics affect basic psychological processes.”

“Based on your attachment style, some places are going to be better than others,” he said.

“If everyone around you has different beliefs, why would you want to have close relationships with them?”

He made no judgment about the specific case of Virginia. “It was just a cute title,” he said of the article written for Social and Personality Psychological Science.

Pieces Motyl penned for Psychology Today and Slate had the same title: “Is Obama the Antichrist?”

The question brought to mind the period Motyl spent supervising the undergraduate honors program when he was pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

“It’s an especially conservative area with lots of military bases, and the family of one student was military going back many generations,” he said.

Email from one of the student’s relatives cautioned her that Obama was from zip code 60606, “606” being the sign of the devil, and that Scripture warns that the Antichrist will be a person with darker skin.

Motyl is a native of St. Augustine, Florida. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, a master’s from the University of Colorado and a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He came to UIC in 2014, and lives three blocks from campus.

He is a co-founder of CivilPolitics.org, which he describes as “a nonprofit that tries to bring together academic research and interventions to improve political discourse.”

Reproducibility is the holy grail of research, and a piece Motyl co-authored is highly rated.

It was named No. 8 of the Top 100 Stories of 2015 by Discovery magazine; No. 6 by Science News; No. 5 in “Altimetric 100,” Nature magazine’s top science stories of 2015; and runner-up for “Breakthrough of the Year” by Science magazine.