Saturday, January 30, 2016

Things I learn

I just lost an entire week to not being able to feel my feelings. I can figure things out. Usually. Eventually. Given some time and a dog to walk through the woods.  I'm on a lifelong quest of self improvement and lately I think I did some growing. Growing hurts but I've come to believe that without pain there can be no joy. The things that are worth living for, these truly beautiful and wonderful things are things paid for with great effort. And it's not even the reward, it's the journey you took to get there that offers the most satisfaction. Is that too philosophical? Probably. Like most personal posts this one will probably disappear after a month but I felt so much better after writing it.

So this is what I've learned. 

- I don't really like sociology as much as I thought I did. It's a cool thing to know about but I find most of sociology to be too depressing. I like to hold onto the belief that most people are fundamentally good and we can make the world a better place as long as we don't give up hope. Studying inequality and social problems does not make me happy. It makes me sad.

- I super duper LOVE data analysis, coding, data mining and statistics. I'm such a nerd, I know. But I love the science part of social science. I really like doing research. I should have gone into marketing or statistics but whatever! At least now I can brush up on some coding and other computer programs like SAS and hopefully people will pay me to do something I love. Something that doesn't remind me every second of all the kids growing up in poverty or racism or sexism or crime. 

- Usually I'm happy living in Germany. But sometimes when I am low on emotional energy it starts to get to me. All the dog poop our neighbors won't pick up. The smoking mini skirt wearing mom at kindergarten who once hit me with her car door because she couldn't wait twenty seconds for me to move out of her way but I still have to say to hi to her like it didn't happen. The lady who tried to stare me down after her dog, which wasn't on a leash, ran at us snarling. The people who are rude for no reason. The stupid endless road construction in our town (who the hell thought shutting down every major street for over a year was a good idea?). This little minor stress inducers can start to break me down when I have to deal with bigger problems at school or home.  Do you know what? I can't change anything. I have to find a way to deal. I don't have a choice. I can't control what other people do, I can only control my reaction.

- I don't want to turn into a terrible person. I don't want to lose my politeness or sense of humor. I don't want to stop being friendly. Some change is inevitable but I'm trying my best not to let these circumstances make me mean or bitter. It's hard though. Some days I just want to scream at people.

- I don't know what to do when friends let me down. It makes me so angry when co-workers or fellow students leave H or I holding the ball. Since we moved here we've been dealing with a pandemic of individuals who say they are going to split things 50% and then disappear and contribute less than 0%. Most the time it takes longer to work on a group project because of the extra time it takes to track them down and try to include them. It's not that I even mind the extra work, but it hurts my feelings that people would care so little to just abandon a project. I don't want to be bitter and distrustful. I'd rather give people the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, giving people the benefit of the doubt has left me doing this last project entirely by myself. I'm not entirely sure how to do deal with the feelings this situation inspires in me.

- None of us are perfect but I still love my family, my friends. There are people who have been there and they know who they are. I love them so dearly. I am so thankful to have so many wonderful people around me. People who I'm proud to call fiends, people who inspire me to be better. H has had to put with so much crazy, I feel terrible sometimes. We forgive each other for our mistakes and move on. The more we talk, the more we understand, the better we are. Thank you.

- There is a lot of stuff to do now. We have to plan an international move with a kid and dog and in the meantime finish my research and then write my master thesis while H works and writes his own thesis. We have to get health insurance, my other half needs a visa, and what the heck am I going to do with all this stuff? We have 8.5 years of furniture and household goods to sort, donate and throw away. Where will we go? What will we do? How is this going to work? I have no idea. I just know we can do it because we have to.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Blame allocation in morally ambiguous situations survey

Hey guys! If you are reading this it's probably because you took our survey, 'blame allocation in morally ambiguous situations'. First of all, I want to thank everyone who participated.  Distributing surveys online isn't an easy task and thanks to our participants we exceeded our goal of a 93% confidence interval and made it to a 95% confidence interval. We have 550+ completed surveys and our original goal was 300. This largely due to the contribution of several Facebook groups in the last week who let us post our survey and our group members who kept asking and working to get the survey out there. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Since we reached our goal and people were starting to discuss the survey online, on the advice of our professor we decided to close early. Online research is tricky, we want people to participate and we love it when our topic creates dialog but we also don't want dialog to create bias that could affect our results. In the next few weeks we will start the painstaking task of importing, cleaning, and analyzing our collected data. It's too early to know anything but I'd like to give everyone who is interested an explanation of the research and why we think it's important.

This research project was conducted through FU Berlin's research placement program for MA students. Our MA is focused on data analysis. Our particular placement is in the 'experimental research program'. That means you all participated in a sociological experiment! Fun, right?

Previous research has shown that when women break social norms such as having a dirty house, many sexual partners or being obese they are judged more harshly than men who exhibit the same behavior. Other research has shown that in the case of violent crime men are given longer prison sentences than women. However there is little to no research on how men and women are judged in situations where there is no clear social norm or where social norms may vary greatly due to different worldviews.

Our research idea was simple.

We conducted a vignette study attempting to assess how blame is attributed according to attitudes concerning gender. This means we asked people to judge the same situations, but in 50% of the cases the gender was male and in 50% the gender was female. This study attempted to gauge attitudes, not actions, regarding gender. Respondents were asked to read several vignettes and then make judgments on the allocation of blame. These judgments should in theory reflect their attitudes towards men and women in different roles according to life rolls: single young adult, student, employee, romantic partner, parent, and spouse. These roles were combined with morally ambiguous real life situations such as: an assault on an intoxicated individual, possible discrimination in the workforce against foreigners, domestic violence, loss of a child, distribution of private personal photos and possible wrongful termination of employment.  The experiment was conducted as a survey, with 50% the male control group and 50% the female treatment group. Surveys were online via social media. The age, nationality and gender of respondents was controlled for. 

According to researchers (Christine Barter and Emma Renold) vignettes may be used for three main purposes in social research: to allow actions in context to be explored; to clarify people’s judgments; and to provide a less personal and therefore less threatening way of exploring sensitive topics. In qualitative research, vignettes enable participants to define the situation in their own terms. 

Hypothesis: - In some rolls women or men will be judged differently, for example they may be judged differently in the role of parents than the roll of students. 

Our theoretical background is extensive, ranging from theories such as victim blaming, internalized gender stereotypes, the motherhood mandate and intersectionality. 

Why is this research important?

We believe our research is important because individual views on gender and blame allocation create the greater social environment in which people are judged both in the legal system and by their peers. It is indeed often said that the macro is made up of the micro. This Daily Beast article (which conveniently popped up in my Facebook news feed this morning) gives a good example of social problems that can result from blame allocation. The article describes a situation where a mother whoes child died of SIDS is charged and convicted of negligent homicide for the sole reason that she let her child sleep on its stomach. As students of sociological research we ask the question, in the same situation would a father also have been charged with a crime? And what does society gain by charging a parent who lost their child with a crime?

In addition, I know some people expressed distress at the inclusion of a murder child in our research. I want to explain that this was included because as a parent I was deeply upset when a child went missing over the summer very near to where I live. I only know this child was missing because the police put up posters around our neighborhood, it was not reported in the national news. I felt more affected than I would have in the USA where child abductions are more frequently covered by the media. I was also interested to hear people express the view that the mother of the child was to blame. If you are interested in this case there is a link. Indeed, all our research situations were cases that our group felt impacted us in a personal manner.

Thanks again for your participation, I hope this answers most of the questions people had about our research.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

For science

Hi! Do you want to help me with my grad school project? Take five and fill out this super fun, super short survey on blame allocation in morally ambiguous situations! I will be forever grateful! 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

German vs. American fitness

One of my biggest problems with juggling my roles as employee/student/parent/person is that I never have enough time for exercise.  I tried really hard last semester but in the end I couldn't keep it up. I might be able to work a 5k or strength training session into my weekend if I don't have any papers to edit or any assignments for school.  During the week I'm too tired to commit to exercise and most days there just isn't time even if I had the energy.  This is frustrating because while exercise is important for physical health I really need it to reduce stress and for my mental well being.  I am way less irritable and pleasant to be around if I've been working out.

The answer to this problem has been right in front of me the whole time.  I just needed to exercise like my German husband.  H has the ability to eat whatever he wants and never become overweight.  Not only that, he takes and passes a fitness test every year even though he eats the same standard German diet on which I struggle not to gain weight.  Oh yeah, and he works 45 hours a week, does an MBA program in the evening and does his share of co-parenting.  What's the secret?  While we joke about his 'skinny genes' there are some very real lifestyle differences between my husband and I.

Since I love statistics I figured I'd do a little research into possible contributing factors to back up my anecdotal evidence.

It's possible after spending a little bit of time in Germany you might notice two things.  First, the standard German diet includes a lot of foods that have been demonized in American culture: bread, chocolate, mayo, potatoes, pork, fried foods, heavy cream sauces, cakes, processed meats and alcohol.  Second, Germany has less than half the obesity rate of the USA and about a third less than the UK and Australia.  What's up with that?

2014 OECD rates for obesity
France 14.5%
Germany 14.7%
Spain 16.7%
South Africa 16%
United Kingdom 24.7%
Canada 25.4%
Australia 28.3%
New Zealand 31.3%
Mexico 32.4%
USA 35.3%

Clearly Germany has a significantly lower rate of obesity.  I thought this might have something to do with the level of physical activity.  Looking at the data we see that more people are regularly active in Germany than in countries with higher rates of obesity.

Percentage of the adult population that are inactive
Germany 28%
Canada 33.3%
Mexico 37.7%
Australia 37.9%
USA 40.5%
New Zealand 47.7% 
Spain 50.2%
United Kingdom 63.3%

Now we're starting to get an interesting picture of some of the differences between the USA and Germany when it comes to fitness.  Another interesting cultural difference is the way that Americas exercise versus the way Germans exercise.  About 16% of Americans have a gym membership as opposed to only 6.2% of Germans (source, source).  But if Germans aren't going to the gym, how are they managing to be more active than Americans?  The answer is that Germans get more of their exercise by biking and walking. 

H likes to run and swim but the majority of the years we've been married he's also biked to school or work.  I admit when I first showed up in Germany with a bunch of stilettos in 2007 I didn't think much of walking places. Now I've totally reversed my attitude.  I haven't worn a pair of shoes I couldn't walk in for years.

My school is too far away for biking to be an option but Germany has a fabulous public transportation system.  It's almost always more efficient and cost effective to take the train than to drive places.  Public transportation causes people to walk a bit more than they would if they were driving.  Using a pedometer I discovered that when I take the train I end up walking two miles a day.  It doesn't seem like that much, walking from the train station to my classes but it adds up to an extra 36 miles a month.  Walking is a load bearing exercise, just as healthy for you as jogging.  

Now you could walk everywhere but the one problem with walking longer distances is that it isn't very time efficient.  This is perhaps why so many Germans ride bikes.  Especially during the warmer months Germans bike everywhere.  They bike their kids to Kita, to the store, to work. Biking three kilometers only takes about ten minutes.  It's almost as time efficient as driving for short distances.  If I bike to the train station in the morning and to run errands I can easily end up getting 100 of the 150 recommended minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week recommended by the Department of Health.  And that's the not so big secret about German fitness.  By making fitness a regular part of their day they get in a lot of physical activity without having to go to the gym.  

This semester  I finally, after eight years of being in Germany, have my own bike and helmet.  I've been doing my best not to fall off or crash into anything the last two weeks (harder than you'd think). Leaving a few minutes early and biking to the train station is something I can manage, no matter how busy I am.  I should know in a couple of months if my husband's fitness is really genetic or if it's a result of his German lifestyle.  I'll keep you posted.