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Exercise May be the Best Medicine for Alzheimer's

July 30, 2013

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – New research out of the University of Maryland School of Public Health shows that exercise may improve cognitive function in those at risk for Alzheimer’s by improving the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory. Memory loss leading to Alzheimer’s disease is one of the greatest fears among older Americans. While some memory loss is normal and to be expected as we age, a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, signals more substantial memory loss and a greater risk for Alzheimer’s, for which there currently is no cure. 

The study, led by Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, provides new hope for those diagnosed with MCI. It is the first to show that an exercise intervention with older adults with mild cognitive impairment (average age 78) improved not only memory recall, but also brain function, as measured by functional neuroimaging (via fMRI).The study, led by Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, provides new hope for those diagnosed with MCI. It is the first to show that an exercise intervention with older adults with mild cognitive impairment (average age 78) improved not only memory recall, but also brain function, as measured by functional neuroimaging (via fMRI). The findings are published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“We found that after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency – basically they were using fewer neural resources to perform the same memory task,” says Dr. Smith. “No study has shown that a drug can do what we showed is possible with exercise.”

Recommended Daily Activity: Good for the Body, Good for the Brain
Two groups of physically inactive older adults (ranging from 60-88 years old) were put on a 12-week exercise program that focused on regular treadmill walking and was guided by a personal trainer.  Both groups – one which included adults with MCI and the other with healthy brain function – improved their cardiovascular fitness by about ten percent at the end of the intervention. More notably, both groups also improved their memory performance and showed enhanced neural efficiency while engaged in memory retrieval tasks.

The good news is that these results were achieved with a dose of exercise consistent with the physical activity recommendations for older adults. These guidelines urge moderate intensity exercise (activity that increases your heart rate and makes you sweat, but isn’t so strenuous that you can’t hold a conversation while doing it) on most days for a weekly total of 150 minutes.

Measuring Exercise’s Impact on Brain Health and Memory
One of the first observable symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is the inability to remember familiar names. Smith and colleagues had study participants identify famous names and measured their brain activation while engaged in correctly recognizing a name – e.g., Frank Sinatra, or other celebrities well known to adults born in the 1930s and 40s. “The task gives us the ability to see what is going on in the brain when there is a correct memory performance,” Smith explains.

Tests and imaging were performed both before and after the 12-week exercise intervention. Brain scans taken after the exercise intervention showed a significant decrease in the intensity of brain activation in eleven brain regions while participants correctly identified famous names. The brain regions with improved efficiency corresponded to those involved in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, including the precuneus region, the temporal lobe, and the parahippocampal gyrus.

The exercise intervention was also effective in improving word recall via a “list learning task,” i.e., when people were read a list of 15 words and asked to remember and repeat as many words as possible on five consecutive attempts, and again after a distraction of being given another list of words.

“People with MCI are on a very sharp decline in their memory function, so being able to improve their recall is a very big step in the right direction,” Smith states.

The results of Smith’s study suggest that exercise may reduce the need for over-activation of the brain to correctly remember something.  That is encouraging news for those who are looking for something they can do to help preserve brain function.

Dr. Smith has plans for a larger study that would include more participants, including those who are healthy but have a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s, and follow them for a longer time period with exercise in comparison to other types of treatments. He and his team hope to learn more about the impact of exercise on brain function and whether it could delay the onset or progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

UMD Soars to #14 on Forbes' Top Public Colleges List

July 29, 2013

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

The University of Maryland ranks #14 among public colleges, according to Forbes' 2013 list of America's Top Colleges.COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland ranks #14 among public colleges, according to Forbes' 2013 list of America's Top Colleges. In the 6th annual rankings, the university also ranks #40 among research universities and #73 among all U.S. colleges, up from #168 in 2012.

According to Forbes, the list focuses on student satisfaction, post-graduate success, student debt, graduation rate and nationally competitive awards.

"Providing broad access to the highest quality education is a task that has never been more important to our children, our state and our nation," says UMD President Wallace Loh. "Forbes' new ranking is particularly gratifying because it stresses academic excellence, the impact of a quality education, and affordability.  With strong support from our state leaders, the University of Maryland is succeeding in meeting these goals."

UMD is also ranked #19 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, The Institute of Higher Education, which ranks the world’s top universities based on research, puts UMD at #38 in the world and #29 among U.S. universities.

The full list of America's Top Colleges is available here.

UMD Students, Alumni Win 15 Fulbright Grants

July 26, 2013

Beth Cavanaugh 301-405-4625
Francis DuVinage 301-314-9458 (National Scholarships Office)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Twelve University of Maryland students and three recent graduates were awarded Fulbright grants to study, conduct research, or teach English abroad during the 2013-14 academic year. The students and alumni will travel to 12 different countries on five continents to carry out projects in fields such as theatre studies, government and politics, environmental conservation, history, geography and education policy. Others will teach English at schools and universities. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides more than 1,900 awards annually for students and young professionals to pursue international study, research, and teaching experience.

Katherine RennenkampfHarrison Guthorn, a doctoral student in the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), and Ashley Enrici, a doctoral student in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (BSOS), were also awardedthe Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement Award, which provides advanced language training during their grant period.

"Maryland's undergraduate and graduate recipients of the Fulbright grant are an extraordinarily talented and adventuresome group of students and a credit to the departments where they study.  From teaching English in Turkey, to exploring the experiences of women secondary school teachers in Ethiopia, to learning about the art and practice of clowning in Indonesia, these students set a high standard of accomplishment for the whole University," said Professor James Gilbert, UMD’s Fulbright program adviser.

In the last five years, UMD students and recent graduates have earned a total of 70 Fulbright grants. This year’s recipients include three seniors, three recent graduates, and nine graduate students. One additional student is an alternate.

Dave BalwanzThe Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Since its establishment in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Ark., the Fulbright Program has given approximately 318,000 individuals the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program operates in over 140 countries worldwide.

2013 University of Maryland Fulbright Recipients

Negar Ashtari Abay - Ethiopia

Negar Ashtari Abay is a doctoral student in the College of Education’s department of counseling, higher education, and special education. Abay’s research will focus on the experiences of women secondary school teachers in Ethiopia during their university training, transition to work, and first year of teaching. By giving voice to female perspectives and revealing strategies employed by women to overcome obstacles, her study hopes to inform policies aimed at the greater inclusion of women in teaching in Sub-Saharan Africa and to fill a gap in the gender and education literature.

Amy Austin - Germany 

Amy Austin graduated with a B.A. in government and politics from BSOS in 2010. She will be an English teaching assistant in Berlin, Germany. Austin recently completed service as a Teach for America corps member teaching fourth grade at the Wounded Knee District School on an Oglala Lakota Native American Reservation in South Dakota. After completing her Fulbright year, Austin plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy or education and then work at an organization that aims to eliminate educational inequalities.

Dave Balwanz - South Africa

Dave Balwanz is a doctoral student in the College of Education's department of counseling, higher education, and special education. He will examine secondary education and training programs for marginalized youth in two school districts in the Johannesburg. He will elicit perspectives from these youth on the skills and learning experiences they see as important in their transition to adulthood and the world of work.

Ashley Enrici - Indonesia

Ashley Enrici, a doctoral candidate in BSOS’ department of geographical sciences, will research the recent extension of the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program. REDD+ moves beyond REDD’s focus on emissions reduction to include environmental and socioeconomic benefits. Enrici will examine implementation challenges of the REDD+ program that two forest communities face. Enrici received Fulbright’s Critical Language Enhancement Award to study Bahasa Indonesia.

Alex Gittelson - Russia

Alex Gittelson, a 2009 graduate of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR), will research alternatives to agricultural burning in Russia. He is currently an international affairs specialist with the Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, focusing on policy issues related to energy, climate, safety, and security. Gittelson plans to pursue graduate studies in public policy after his Fulbright project.

Amina Goheer - Turkey

Amina Goheer, a 2012 BSOS and ARHU graduate, has been awarded an English teaching assistantship to Turkey. As an undergraduate student, Goheer studied abroad in Alexandria, Egypt and held internships at Search for Common Ground, an NGO that encourages collaborative solutions to conflict, and the Embassy of Pakistan. Following her Fulbright year, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in international development or global public health.

Harrison Guthorn - Jordan

Harrison Guthorn, a doctoral student in ARHU’s department of history, will examine how the city of Amman developed. He will focus on its development as the capital of Transjordan during the Mandate period. He will demonstrate how the history of Amman is also the history of Transjordan by focusing upon the development of Amman’s infrastructure, elites, and its civil society. Guthorn also received Fulbright’s Critical Enhancement Award to study Arabic.

James Hesla - Indonesia

James Hesla, a doctoral student in ARHU’s department of theatre, dance and performance studies, will research Balinese clowns and clowning in traditional masked dance-drama. Hesla asserts that clowns have the freedom to comment on pressing social and cultural concerns through comic actions and dialogue. He will consider how clowns and clowning both reflect and impact Balinese cultural values in performance and performer training.

Elana Mayer - Mexico

A 2013 ARHU graduate, Elana Mayer has been awarded an English teaching assistantship to Mexico where she will serve as an English language and cultural assistant at a public university. Upon her return from Mexico, Mayer plans to complete the Masters Certification (MCERT) Program at UMD to become a high school Spanish and/or ESL teacher.

Sonia Prescott - Panama

Sonia Prescott, a doctoral student in ARHU’s department of history, will research Afro Antillean contributions to the labor movement in Panama, particularly the Silver Roll strike of 1919 and the rent strikes of 1925 and 1932. She will focus on the role of racial propaganda in defining how these protests gained or lost the support of the larger Panamanian society.

Katherine Rennenkampf - Indonesia

A 2013 graduate of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS), Katherine Rennenkampf has been awarded a Fulbright English teaching assistantship to Indonesia. Rennenkampf, who aspires to become a math educator at the secondary level, will also be pursuing a project to learn about Indonesia’s recent steps in reforming its mathematics curricula. Upon her return from Indonesia, she plans to take an assignment as a Teach for America corps member.

Mary Kate Schneider - Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mary Kate Schneider is adoctoral student BSOS’ department of government and politics. Through her Fulbright grant, she will research the effects of divided education in Bosnia and Herzegovina by exploring how education policies affect interethnic perceptions and attitudes. She plans to survey and conduct focus groups with students from 10 cities and villages in Bosnia and Herzegovina, assessing interethnic attitudes that emerge among students.

Yu-Chi Wang - Taiwan

Yu-Chi Wang is a May 2013 graduate from BSOS and CMNS and has been awarded a Fulbright grant to teach English in Taiwan.  After her Fulbright year in Taiwan, Wang plans to pursue a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology and to use her Chinese-language skills to work internationally.

Kimberly Wilson - Taiwan

Kimberly Wilson, a doctoral student in BSOS, will examine Taiwan's maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea. She will be based in Taipei, utilizing Taipei's academic and policy making sources and collecting data through interviews and documentary analysis. Wilson’s project will build on her current dissertation research in China, which is funded by a 2012-13 Boren Fellowship. 

Jesse Zarley - Chile 

Jesse Zarley is a doctoral student in ARHU and will research how the indigenous Mapuche population of southern Chile successfully resisted conquest and colonization by the Spanish Empire and the Chilean nation during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He will work with primary documents and twentieth-century ethnographies to reconstruct a more coherent view of Mapuche cultural practices, rituals, and leadership structures. 

Dig at Eastern Shore site, built by freed slaves, shows it may be U.S.’s oldest black community (Washington Post)

Some were the freed slaves of conscience-stricken Quakers. Others were freed by a sea captain in his will. Still others were freed by a slave midwife who bought freedom for herself and her family. Together, here in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore, they may have given birth to what scholars at the University of Maryland and Morgan State suspect could be the oldest enclave of free African Americans, and possibly the oldest existing black neighborhood, in the country.

In Easton, archaeologists hope to uncover earliest free African American settlement (Baltimore Sun)

In Easton, an untold story of free African Americans is being discovered through bits of glass, shards of pottery and oyster shells. Piece by piece, University of Maryland archaeologists, historians from Morgan State, and the local community are uncovering the history of The Hill, a community they believe to be the earliest settlement of free African Americans in the United States, dating to 1790.


Starburst Wind Keeps Galaxies 'Thin'

July 24, 2013

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

Unlike humans, galaxies don’t have an obesity problem. In fact there are far fewer galaxies at the most massive end of the galactic scale than expected and scientists have long sought to explain why. A new, UMD-led study published in the journal Nature suggests that one answer lies in a kind of feast and fast sequence through which large galaxies can keep their mass down.COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Unlike humans, galaxies don’t have an obesity problem. In fact there are far fewer galaxies at the most massive end of the galactic scale than expected and scientists have long sought to explain why. A new, UMD-led study published in the journal Nature suggests that one answer lies in a kind of feast and fast sequence through which large galaxies can keep their mass down.

Galaxies become more massive by ‘consuming’ vast clouds of gas and turning them into new stars. The new study shows in unprecedented detail how a burst of star formation in a galaxy can blow most of the remaining star-building gas out to the edge of the galaxy, resulting in a long period of starvation during which few new stars are produced.

“For the first time, we can clearly see massive concentrations of cold molecular gas being jettisoned by expanding shells of intense pressure created by young stars,” says lead author Alberto Bolatto of the University of Maryland. “The amount of gas we measure gives us very convincing evidence that some growing galaxies blow out more gas than they take in, slowing star formation down to a crawl.”

The team of astronomers used the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a giant radio telescope in the high desert of northern Chile, to discover billowing columns of cold, dense gas being pushed out of starburst galaxy NGC 253, also known as the Silver Dollar or Sculptor Galaxy. In starburst galaxies, stars form about 100 times faster than in more normal galaxies like our Milky Way.

NGC 253 – with its slightly askew orientation – offers astronomers an excellent view of the star formation clusters near the galaxy’s center, clusters that turn out to be the point of departure for material being pushed from the galaxy.

“ALMA is opening a new window for observations of galactic winds,” says Sylvain Veilleux, also at the University of Maryland and a coauthor on the paper. “Winds have the potential to be incredibly disruptive and carry away a significant fraction of the star-forming material of a galaxy.”

The team says their results may help explain the universe’s surprising paucity of high-mass galaxies. Computer models indicate that old red galaxies, which are far more massive than the Milky Way, should be considerably more common than they are. In their youth, these galaxies likely ejected a large fraction of their gas that would have otherwise formed stars.

Gas can be removed from a galaxy in two ways. One is through the action of a central, supermassive black hole, called an active galactic nucleus.  Material is pulled into the black hole, becomes superheated and produces powerful jets or wide-angle winds that can propel material far from the galactic disk. However, evidence suggests that the black hole at the center of NGC 253 is not currently active.

The other way to potentially blow gas out of a galaxy is through galactic winds generated by star formation, but previously this had not been observed with enough resolution or sensitivity to measure the outflow of gas or its reductive impact on subsequent star formation.

As new stars form they exert powerful destructive influences on their environment. Initially, their light and winds of particles push on the surrounding gas. Later, if they are massive enough, stars explode as supernovas, a process that further drives the surrounding material away from the stellar birthplace. The current study indicates that in NGC 253, the concentration of hundreds or thousands of such destructive stars in one region is responsible for launching powerful flows of gas out of the galaxy.NASA image of NGC 253

Previous X-ray spectrum observations of NGC 253 have shown gas made of hot ionized hydrogen atoms streaming away from its star-forming regions. However, alone this insubstantial gas would have little if any impact on the fate of the galaxy and its ability to form future generations of stars. The new ALMA data show the far-more-dense molecular gas getting its initial “kick” from the formation of new stars and then being swept along with the thin, hot gas on its way to the galactic halo.
Using only a portion of its eventual full complement of 66 antennas, ALMA measured the mass and motion of carbon monoxide (CO) in the gas ejected from the central regions of this galaxy. The researchers determined that vast quantities of molecular gas – likely 9 times the mass of our Sun and possibly much more – were being ejected from the galaxy each year. At this rate, the galaxy could run out of gas and star formation slow to a crawl as in as few as 60 million years.
The researchers also determined that the gas is traveling somewhere between 25 to 155 miles (40 to 250 kilometers) per second, streaming approximately 1,500 light-years above and below the disk.  This may not be fast enough for the gas to reach escape velocity from the galaxy. If not, the gas will likely get suspended in the galactic halo for many millions of years.
 “More studies with the full ALMA array will help us figure out the ultimate fate of the gas carried away by the wind,” said Adam Leroy with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a facility of the National Science Foundation (NSF). “This will help us understand whether these starburst-driven winds recycle or truly remove star forming material.”

Bolatto agrees, but says: “Probably in a galaxy like this, the gas is pulled back into the heart of the galaxy, perhaps after several hundred million years. Star formation then takes off again and the whole process repeats itself.”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) provided core funding for this research through multiple grants to the university-based U.S. scientists as well as through NSF support of NRAO and ALMA construction and operations.

“Understanding how galaxies can evolve so radically and so dramatically is one of the hottest topics in astronomy today,” said Dan Evans, NSF program officer. “This work will have far-reaching implications for our understanding of the evolution of the cosmos. The result also is a true testament to the partnerships forged over many years between the University of Maryland research team, NSF and its international partners in the ALMA Project.

Study Shows Common Chemicals Harm Honey Bees' Health

July 24, 2013

Heather Dewar, 301-405-9267

Researchers collect pollen samples from honey bee hives used to pollinate blueberries in Maine. Photo: Michael Andree COLLEGE PARK, Md - Commercial honey bees used to pollinate crops are exposed to a wide variety of agricultural chemicals, including common fungicides which impair the bees’ ability to fight off a potentially lethal parasite, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The study, published July 24 in the online journal PLOS ONE, is the first analysis of real-world conditions encountered by honey bees as their hives pollinate a wide range of crops, from apples to watermelons.

The researchers collected pollen from honey bee hives in fields from Delaware to Maine. They analyzed the samples to find out which flowering plants were the bees’ main pollen sources and what agricultural chemicals were commingled with the pollen. The researchers fed the pesticide-laden pollen samples to healthy bees, which were then tested for their ability to resist infection with Nosema ceranae – a parasite of adult honey bees that has been linked to a lethal phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.

On average, the pollen samples contained 9 different agricultural chemicals, including fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and miticides. Sublethal levels of multiple agricultural chemicals were present in every sample, with one sample containing 21 different pesticides. Pesticides found most frequently in the bees’ pollen were the fungicide chlorothalonil, used on apples and other crops, and the insecticide fluvalinate, used by beekeepers to control Varroa mites, common honey bee pests.

In the study’s most surprising result, bees that were fed the collected pollen samples containing chlorothonatil were nearly three times more likely to be infected by Nosema than bees that were not exposed to these chemicals, said Jeff Pettis, research leader of the USDA’s Bee Research Laboratory and the study’s lead author. The miticides used to control Varroa mites also harmed the bees’ ability to withstand parasitic infection.

Beekeepers know they are making a trade-off when they use miticides,  said University of Maryland researcher Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the study’s senior author. The chemicals compromise bees’ immune systems, but the damage is less than it would be if mites were left unchecked. But the study’s finding that common fungicides can be harmful at real world dosages is new, and points to a gap in existing regulations, he said.

“We don’t think of fungicides as having a negative effect on bees, because they’re not designed to kill insects,” vanEngelsdorp said. Federal regulations restrict the use of insecticides while pollinating insects are foraging, he said, “but there are no such restrictions on fungicides, so you’ll often see fungicide applications going on while bees are foraging on the crop. This finding suggests that we have to reconsider that policy.”

In an unexpected finding, most of the crops that the bees were pollinating appeared to provide their hives with little nourishment. Honey bees gather pollen to take to their hives and feed their young. But when the researchers collected pollen from bees foraging on native North American crops such as blueberries and watermelon, they found the pollen came from other flowering plants in the area, not from the crops. This is probably because honey bees, which evolved in the Old World, are not efficient at collecting pollen from New World crops, even though they can pollinate these crops.

The study’s findings are not directly related to colony collapse disorder, the still-unexplained phenomenon in which entire honey bee colonies suddenly die. However, the researchers said the results shed light on the many factors that are interacting to stress honey bee populations.

When College Diversity Delivers Benefits: UMD Study

July 22, 2013

Halima Cherif, UMD College of Education, 301-405-0476
Neil Tickner, UMD Communications, 301-405-7476

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The benefits of race-conscious college admissions are only fully realized under certain conditions, concludes new University of Maryland-led research. To stimulate meaningful cross-racial engagement, incoming freshman classes should reflect both racial and socio-economic diversity, the researchers report.

The peer-reviewed study appears in the June 2013 issue of the "American Educational Research Journal." The researchers say their study is the first to test empirically how socio-economic diversity affects racial interaction in colleges.

"Social class and race not only affect who goes to college, but what actually happens to students once they begin the journey of learning together," says lead author Julie J. Park, an assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland (UMD)."Social class and race not only affect who goes to college, but what actually happens to students once they begin the journey of learning together," says lead author Julie J. Park, an assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland (UMD). "Socio-economic diversity matters, not only because we need to broaden access to universities, but because it better equips these institutions to support racial diversity. A broader mix of students helps encourage more fluid interactions."

Park's team analyzed questionnaires filled out by more than 15,000 students at 102 U.S. colleges and universities on their campus interactions in and out of the classroom, including contacts with students from different races and social-economic backgrounds. Students reported as freshman and then again four years later as seniors.

The researchers found that students who reported higher levels of interaction with those from different socio-economic backgrounds also had significantly higher levels of contacts with other races, and an overall higher level of mixing with students from diverse backgrounds.

These findings "indicate that both socioeconomic and racial diversity are essential to promoting a positive campus racial climate," the researchers write. "Racial and socioeconomic diversity, while interrelated, are not interchangeable."

Park explains that white students from lower class backgrounds tend to have more experiences with people from different backgrounds due to the racial composition of American high schools.

"For one thing, sharing similar socio-economic backgrounds provides a way for students of different races to find common ground," Park adds. "Socio-economic diversity in combination with racial diversity creates a safer, more level playing field where people can meet and learn from each other."

The study's findings have practical implications for college admissions policies. "In order to better support both racial and socioeconomic diversity, selective and highly selective colleges need to increase efforts and dedicate additional resources toward recruiting, admitting, and supporting greater numbers of academically talented low-income students of all races and ethnicities," the authors write.

The study is the latest in Park's research, which focuses on diversity in higher education. She has a new book out that echoes the findings of this study, "When Diversity Drops: Race, Religion, and Affirmative Action in Higher Education." It examines the impact in California of Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action statewide.
The study's full text is available here.

Mapping the Brain To Understand Cultural Differences

July 18, 2013

Neil Tickner 301-405-7476

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A University of Maryland-led research team is working to help diplomats, military personnel, global managers and others who operate abroad to peer inside the minds of people from very different cultures.

"Some cultures are 'loose' and others very 'tight' – quick to spot and react to violations of social norms. Yet we know very little about how these vast cultural are realized in the brain," says University of Maryland cross-cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand, who is leading the interdisciplinary research team.With a three-year, $813,000 grant from the Department of Defense researchers will literally get inside the heads of people from various cultures to study the underlying neural-biological processes associated with cultural permissiveness versus restrictiveness.

"Some cultures are 'loose' and others very 'tight' – quick to spot and react to violations of social norms. Yet we know very little about how these vast cultural differences are realized in the brain," says University of Maryland cross-cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand, who is leading the interdisciplinary research team. "This work builds upon an exciting new field of cultural neuroscience to examine how differences in the strength of norms across the globe are 'embrained.'"

Gelfand's team will use brain measurements to help explain and predict a wide range of cultural differences, from self-control to creativity to cooperation.Gelfand's team will use brain measurements to help explain and predict a wide range of cultural differences, from self-control to creativity to cooperation. Though the field is in its infancy, she says it can advance understanding of group identities, cultural norms and belief systems.
"Social norms, though omnipresent in our everyday lives, are highly implicit," Gelfand says. "This research has the potential to facilitate the development of theoretical models and measures with improved predictive power. It will advance our understanding of the connection between culture, brain, and behavior."

The team will focus on developing tools to assess the strength of social norms, as well as policy recommendations for managing clashes of moralities, and techniques for better intercultural interaction.

Gelfand's co-investigators are Luiz Pessoa, who directs the University of Maryland Neuroimaging Center, Shinobu Kitayama, director of the University of Michigan Culture and Cognition Program, and Klaus Boehnke, a professor of social science methodology at Bremen, Germany's Jacobs University.

The research builds upon on an earlier 33-nation study in Science, in which a Gelfand-led team assesses the degree to which countries are restrictive or permissive and the factors that made them that way.

The research grant was awarded by the Defense Department's Minerva Initiative, which aims to improve the department's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the United States. The UMD project is one of only 14 funded by Minerva from a total pool of 280.

Gelfand received a prior Minerva grant in 2012 to study radicalization and a MURI grant in 2008 to study culture and negotiation in the Middle East. She can be contacted at

See also

Maryland Agriculture is $8.25 Billion Industry

July 18, 2013

Sara Gavin 301-405-9235

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The impact of agriculture on Maryland’s economy amounts to $8.25 billion annually, according to a recent study published by the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland.

Professor Loretta LynchThe study, conducted by Professor Loretta Lynch and graduate student Jeffrey Ferris, looks beyond the revenue generated from farm products ($1.8 billion) and takes an in-depth look at how the agricultural and forestry industries weave their way into nearly every sector of Maryland’s robust economy.

Graduate student Jeffrey Ferris“While agriculture and forestry uses occupy 66 percent of Maryland’s land, agriculture only accounts for less than one-percent of the state’s gross domestic product,” says Loretta Lynch, Ph.D., co-author of the study and Director of the Center for Agricultural and Resource Policy at UMD. “We suspected, however, that evaluating the ripple effects generated by agriculture on Maryland’s economy would tell us a different story.”

Using an input-output analysis, the study takes into account the numerous industries that provide supplies and services necessary to process, manufacture and package products grown and harvested from Maryland’s farms and forests. UMD researchers found that for every dollar generated directly by agriculture or forestry industries, 45 cents was added to other sectors in the state; and, for every five jobs generated in these industries, three additional jobs were created around the state. The total economic impact of Maryland agriculture amounted to $8.25 billion annually and 45,600 jobs.

The study was commissioned by Cheng-i Wei, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland. “Agriculture is a part of Maryland’s economy that is often overlooked and underestimated but this study reinforces that it is essential to our state’s economic health,” says Wei, Ph.D. “It is important that we understand the full impact of agriculture so that we continue to discover innovative ways to keep the industry prosperous and train the next generation of leaders who will preserve it.”

While the number of farms in the state continues to decline, farmers are adapting, modernizing and becoming highly efficient, producing more with less for local, regional, national and international markets.The study, the first of its kind since 2005, also highlights the changing face of agriculture in Maryland. While the number of farms in the state continues to decline, farmers are adapting, modernizing and becoming highly efficient, producing more with less for local, regional, national and international markets. Steady profits, however, are necessary to keep Maryland operations from shutting down and causing a snowball effect on the state’s economy.

“The decline of the agricultural and forestry sectors would have an impact on not just farm families and agriculturally based businesses,” the study states. “It would ripple out to the entire economy, causing distress to workers in many sectors, and losses to taxpayers, businesses, and others who benefit from a strong Maryland economy.”

To view further details from the report, The Impact of Agriculture on Maryland’s Economy, please click here.


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