Research from Ohio State


Special to The Sunbury News



Reliance on ‘gut feelings’ linked to belief in fake news, study finds

Political bias isn’t all that shapes how we perceive truth

COLUMBUS – People who tend to trust their intuition or to believe that the facts they hear are politically biased are more likely to stand behind inaccurate beliefs, a new study suggests.

And those who rely on concrete evidence to form their beliefs are less likely to have misperceptions about high-profile scientific and political issues, said Kelly Garrett, the lead researcher and a professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

“Scientific and political misperceptions are dangerously common in the U.S. today. The willingness of large minorities of Americans to embrace falsehoods and conspiracy theories poses a threat to society’s ability to make well-informed decisions about pressing matters,” Garrett said.

“A lot of attention is paid to our political motivations, and while political bias is a reality, we shouldn’t lose track of the fact that people have other kinds of biases too.”

Garrett and co-author Brian Weeks of the University of Michigan published the study in the journal PLOS ONE. They examined data from three nationally representative surveys that included anywhere from 500 to almost 1,000 participants. Their aim was to better understand how people form their beliefs and how that might contribute to their willingness to accept ideas with little or no evidence to support them.

They looked at how participants responded to 12 questions including “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not,” “Evidence is more important than whether something feels true” and “Facts are dictated by those in power.”

They used responses to these questions to assess people’s faith in intuition, their need for evidence, and their belief that “truth” is political.

“These are characteristics that we expected would be important above and beyond the role of partisanship,” Garrett said. “We’re tapping into something about people’s understanding of the world, something about how they think about what they know, how they know it and what is true.”

The researchers compared how participants’ approach to deciding what is true was related to their beliefs about hot-button topics. The study included questions about the debunked link between vaccines and autism and the science-based connection between human activity and climate change.

Garrett and Weeks found that people who believe that truth is shaped by politics and power are more likely to embrace falsehoods. On the other hand, those who rely on evidence were less likely to believe those falsehoods.

The researchers also evaluated survey respondents’ tendency to agree with seven well-known conspiracy theories. More than 45 percent said they didn’t buy that John F. Kennedy was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald alone; 33 percent agreed that the U.S. government was behind the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and 32 percent said Princess Diana’s death was orchestrated by the British royal family.

Previous research has shown connections between belief in conspiracy theories and education level, religious fundamentalism and party affiliation, Garrett said.

In this study, a belief that truth is political was the strongest predictor of whether someone would buy into conspiracy theories. Garrett also found that those who rely on intuition to assess the truth had a stronger tendency to endorse conspiracies.

“While trusting your gut may be beneficial in some situations, it turns out that putting faith in intuition over evidence leaves us susceptible to misinformation,” said Weeks, who worked on the research as an Ohio State graduate student.

Garrett said it’s important to acknowledge that our beliefs aren’t based solely upon political predispositions.

“Misperceptions don’t always arise because people are blinded by what their party or favorite news outlet is telling them,” he said.

The good news, as Garrett sees it? “Making an effort to base your beliefs on evidence is an easy way to help avoid being misled.”

It’s also possible to influence others in a positive direction, he said, by sharing evidence in a calm, respectful manner when faced with misperceptions. If a Facebook friend, for instance, posts an inaccurate item, a link to a trusted news source or document can be helpful, Garrett said.

“People sometimes say that it’s too hard to know what’s true anymore. That’s just not true. These results suggest that if you pay attention to evidence you’re less likely to hold beliefs that aren’t correct,” he said.

“This isn’t a panacea – there will always be people who believe conspiracies and unsubstantiated claims – but it can make a difference.”

The National Science Foundation supported this research.

Regular exercise, stress can both make a big difference in lupus, study finds

Daily activity appears to cut kidney damage from inflammation – and stress does the opposite

COLUMBUS – Waking up in the morning with the joint pain, swelling and stiffness that accompanies lupus doesn’t exactly inspire a workout.

But research in mice and a related pilot study in humans are showing how regular activity and stress reduction could lead to better health in the long run.

In the mouse model of lupus, researchers from The Ohio State University found that moderate exercise (45 minutes of treadmill walking per day) significantly decreased inflammatory damage to the kidneys. While 88 percent of non-exercised mice had severe damage, only 45 percent of the treadmill-exercised animals did.

And the researchers think they know why: Several biomarkers known to drive inflammation plummeted in the exercise group.

To take the research a step further, the team wanted to see what happened to those same biomarkers in lupus mice exposed to a well-established animal model of repeated social disruption known to induce psychological stress – in particular, daily encounters with a stronger “bully” mouse.

The results were almost exactly the opposite – the inflammatory markers shot up, which caused substantial kidney damage in the mice.

“If we observe similar results in human studies, this could mean that stress reduction and a daily regimen of physical therapy should be considered as interventional strategies to be used alongside current medical treatment,” said study senior author Nicholas Young, a research scientist in rheumatology and immunology at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.

“We may have started to characterize an effective way to reduce inflammation and help people with lupus aside from conventional drug therapy,” he said.

Previous studies have supported the idea that physical activity is good for lupus patients, but hard scientific evidence explaining why has been scarce, he said.

Because of that, daily moderate exercise and stress management often aren’t strongly emphasized in the care of lupus patients because their roles in controlling inflammation aren’t well understood, Young said.

“What you hear a lot from patients is that they’re hurting and they don’t want to get out of bed in the morning and don’t feel like exercising,” Young said. “One of the largest hurdles to get over is that it may not seem intuitive that movement will make you feel better, but it does.”

The study conducted in mice appeared in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

To see if these results might apply to humans, Young’s research team enrolled a group of lupus patients into a daily tai chi program in a small pilot study. The classes focused on both moderate exercise and stress reduction. Initial results show a significant decrease in some of the same inflammatory biomarkers identified in the mouse experiments and provided enough supporting evidence that the researchers are seeking funding for a larger human trial, Young said.

The preliminary results of the tai chi intervention, called the Stress Moderation Impacting Lupus with Exercise (SMILE) study, were published in the abstract supplement for the annual European League Against Rheumatism conference in June and will be presented at the American College of Rheumatology meeting in November.

“We’ve shown on a molecular level that both exercise and stress can impact inflammation by regulation of the immune system, which may provide a unique opportunity to help people suffering from the chronic inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases like lupus,” Young said.

“If we find consistent benefits in a large group of people with lupus and can standardize a specific regimen, you could almost imagine a prescription for exercise and stress reduction.”

Young said that the research findings prompt him to wonder about the potential for similar exercise-induced inflammatory changes in other diseases that affect the joints, including arthritis and gout. Ongoing work in his laboratory will be examining these conditions as well, he said.

Other Ohio State researchers who worked on the mouse study and human pilot study include Saba Aqel, Jeffrey Hampton, Michael Bruss, Juliette Yedimenko, Alexa Meara, Stacy Ardoin, Kendra Jones, Giancarlo Valiente, Lai-Chu Wu, William Willis, Sudha Agarwal, Brad Bolon, Nicole Powell, John Sheridan and Wael Jarjour.

When residents take charge of their rainforests, fewer trees die

Community management slows deforestation, study finds

COLUMBUS, Ohio – When the government gives citizens a personal stake in forested land, trees don’t disappear as quickly and environmental harm slows down.

A new study from The Ohio State University has found that policies called “community forest concessions” have proven effective in preserving Guatemalan rainforests.

While giving forest property and management rights to residents doesn’t eliminate deforestation, it appears to lower it as much as almost 8 percent compared to areas without community oversight and ownership.

“Globally, there’s a huge debate about how to conserve these rainforests and this work shows that these policies slow down aggressive deforestation that harms the environment,” said study co-author Brent Sohngen, a professor of agricultural, environmental and developmental economics at Ohio State.

“Most government-protected zones are protected in name only, so it’s important to find new ways of slowing deforestation.”

This study, which appeared in the journal Land Economics, looked at community concessions in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, a protected area in northern Guatemala. In some cases, the government allocated property rights to longtime residents of the area. In other cases, the property was put in the hands of recent settlers or given to those who live a distance away, in a larger metropolitan area.

The research team used satellite land-use data to estimate the impact of community management on avoiding deforestation. And they compared tree loss in those areas to deforestation in similar, unmanaged areas.

The researchers also assessed “leakage,” or the shifting of deforestation from managed areas to nearby unmanaged areas – a problem that could render the community management policies worthless.

In all cases, the programs slowed the cutting down of trees in the rainforest, a resource that is vital in lowering carbon levels in the atmosphere.

The impact of community management was greatest in recently settled areas. The researchers found an almost 8 percent reduction compared to similar non-managed areas. There was evidence of leakage in those areas as well, though not enough to eclipse the benefits of deforestation.

The smallest impact – a 4.3 percent reduction – was seen in areas where nonresidents managed the land.

“This study’s worldwide implications are tremendous,” said Douglas Southgate, study co-author and emeritus professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State.

“There are millions upon millions of hectares of tropical forests – far more than will ever be set aside as parks and reserves and nearly all of that land is inhabited. This study suggests that empowering local communities is the best way to conserve resources in many places,” he said.

In the arrangements in Guatemala, significant responsibility is handed over to the residents involved, Sohngen said.

“What happens is you allocate property rights to groups of people – from 30 residents to hundreds of people – and they organize themselves and manage the land,” he said.

Though the timber industry doesn’t disappear in these rainforests, fast and indiscriminate removal of trees subsides while sustainable forestry increases. These arrangements in Guatemala also have led to a rise in non-timber business, including ecotourism and harvesting, and sales of plants including palm fronds used in floral arrangements, Sohngen said.

“Deforestation is still going on – it’s not like it’s gone to zero – but this arrangement preserves biodiversity, history and culture. And it reduces carbon at the same time,” he said.

“If we can preserve some of these spaces through concessions, we’ve saved them for another day,” Sohngen said.

Lea Fortmann, now an assistant professor of economics at the University of Puget Sound, worked on this study as an Ohio State graduate student.

Farsighted children struggle with attention, study finds

Vision problems often undetected, uncorrected in younger kids

COLUMBUS – Farsighted preschoolers and kindergartners have a harder time paying attention and that could put them at risk of slipping behind in school, a new study suggests.

An estimated 4 to 14 percent of preschoolers have moderate farsightedness, or hyperopia, but it often goes undetected in younger children. When moderate farsightedness is found, glasses aren’t always recommended because there’s disagreement about whether vision correction is appropriate for these children.

But an increasing body of evidence is showing that moderately farsighted 4- and 5-year-olds are at risk of struggling with the building blocks of learning, said Marjean Taylor Kulp, professor of optometry at The Ohio State University.

“We knew from our previous work that preschool and kindergarten children with uncorrected farsightedness have decreased early literacy, and this new study shows that there are even more deficits in these children early on,” she said.

In the new study, which appears this month in the journal Optometry and Vision Science, Kulp and her collaborators tested children with and without farsightedness to evaluate their attention, visual perception and the ability to integrate visual perception and motor skills.

Tests for visual attention (the ability to zero in on some visual stimuli and ignore others) included looking at a picture, such as a butterfly, and finding the matching pictures in an array of images.

Overall, the children who were moderately farsighted based on results of eye exams performed at the start of the study were significantly more likely to have poorer scores on the attention-related tests.

While some children were able to focus their eyes and adjust for their farsightedness, others who were not able to do this and struggled to see close-up had lower scores on tests of visual attention, visual perception and visual-motor integration (eye-hand coordination or copying skills).

The study included 244 children with moderate farsightedness and 248 children with normal vision. Most were enrolled in a preschool Head Start programs in Pennsylvania, Ohio or Massachusetts. The researchers accounted for differences in age, sex, parental education status and race.

The Vision In Preschoolers – Hyperopia In Preschoolers study group’s previous research found that children with uncorrected farsightedness lose ground on reading skills before they start first grade.

Though this study didn’t look specifically at the link between attention and learning, previous research has established that difficulties with attention can stand in the way of greater success in the classroom.

The researchers have applied for funding to do a follow-up study to determine the effect of glasses to correct farsightedness on these deficits. Until that work is complete, it remains unclear whether prescribing glasses to children in this age group will help with the setbacks the researchers have discovered, Kulp said.

In the meantime, Kulp said it’s important to recognize that moderate farsightedness has the potential to create hurdles to learning and literacy.

“It’s important for us to identify these children and especially identify those who are having learning difficulties because of their vision,” she said.

The National Eye Institute supported the study.

Special to The Sunbury News

Written by Misti Crane.

Written by Misti Crane.