The Daily Dose: Spending time with rival groups increases empathy and decreases hostility (Good News Edition)

In a country where a significant portion of the population chooses to disregard suggestions from public health officials and something as simple as wearing a protective facemask has been turned into an overtly political act, local governments in America have had a spotty track record when it comes to contact tracing. Unfortunately, even in places that take the COVID-19 threat seriously, are having trouble properly executing the task. An article from the Associated Press spent time with NYC contact tracers and documented their struggles. They found a mixed bag. The program is close to meeting its benchmarks, “But in the program’s first two months, more than 11,000 infected people — over half of all new cases — didn’t provide any names of others they might have exposed. When people have identified contacts, tracers have finished interviews with 6 in 10 of them, short of the city’s goal. The city has yet to say how quickly it’s connecting with people or what it’s gleaning about potential sources of exposure.” Somehow, the news is encouraging and disconcerting at the same time.

Even for people following COVID-19 news in the news, the stream of new and often contradictory findings can be frustrating and difficult to keep track of. That’s why we’re feeling this STAT review of what the scientific community knows and doesn’t know about SARS-CoV-2. It’s clear and understandable. Definitely worth the investment of a few minutes.

Students are influenced by many things, their peers, their favorite apps, and to a lesser degree their teachers and other adults. One source seldom considered are the textbooks they use in school. A team of researchers studied whether science textbooks are reflective of the demographics where the book is used. What they found is pretty much in keeping with trends in society. “We conducted a demographic analysis by extracting hundreds of human names from common biology textbooks and assessing the binary gender and race of featured scientists. We found that the most common scientists featured in textbooks are white men. However, women and scientists of colour are increasingly represented in contemporary scientific discoveries. In fact, the proportion of women highlighted in textbooks has increased in lockstep with the proportion of women in the field, indicating that textbooks are matching a changing demographic landscape.”

And now for some really encouraging science… It’s been long suspected that tensions between rival groups can be lowered through social contact. According to the contact hypothesis, prejudice can be reduced when groups come together under optimal circumstances of cooperation and equal status. Unfortunately, most reports of success have been anecdotal. Researchers have now taken the first step in validating or refuting the theory. Per Nature, “Mousa intervened in amateur Christian soccer leagues across Northern Iraqi cities affected by ISIS violence. To assess the impact of this ambitious real-world intervention, she randomly assigned Muslim players to half of the teams, measured players’ behavior up to 6 months later, and posted her preregistered analysis plan and data alongside the report. Mousa finds that having Muslim teammates causes Christian players to change their behavior for the better toward Muslim players, by including them, working with them, and awarding them material signs of respect. Team-based contact with minority group members reduced prejudiced behavior toward other minority group players.” With the world messier than it’s been for a very long time, this is some encouraging and welcome news.

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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