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Research Roundup
January 22, 2008, Volume 54, No. 18

“In Your Face” Television Debates’ Effect on Audiences

Today’s “in your face” televised political debates evoke emotional reactions in viewers and cause them to think that opposing views are less legitimate, according to Dr. Diana C. Mutz, Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of Political Science and Communication.

 “Effects of ‘in-your-face’ Television Discourse on Perceptions of Legitimate Opposition,” published in the November issue of the American Political Science Review, was written by Dr. Mutz and is available at www.apsanet.org/imgtest/APSRNov07Mutz.pdf. “My findings suggest that television certainly has the capacity to educate viewers about oppositional positions and to increase the perceived legitimacy of oppositional views,” Dr. Mutz said. “However, the extremely intimate perspective that it provides on political disagreement ultimately undermines its ability to serve these ends.”

Dr. Mutz’s study involved three distinct experiments in a laboratory setting that presented adult subjects with televised political debate at a studio talk show set with professional actors playing congressional candidates and a moderator.

Participants saw the same exchange of political arguments, but some viewed these arguments presented in a civil and polite tone while others saw an uncivil exchange that resembled so-called “shout show” political conversations. In addition, some saw the exchange of political views from a close-up camera angle while others saw the same exchange from a more distant camera perspective.

Participants were most able to recall the uncivil exchanges featuring tight close-up shots. These uncivil exchanges reinforced viewers’ tendency to de-legitimize oppositional views, while civil expressions of the same views enhanced viewer perception of their legitimacy.

“As anyone who has been cornered by a disagreeable individual at a cocktail party knows, this experience tends to be unpleasant at best,” Dr. Mutz said. “Television replicates the sound and sight of human experience so that today’s political advocates can, for better or worse, truly be in our faces.”

Increased Disability Among Older, Obese Adults

Researchers at the Penn School of Medicine report that older adults today are much more likely to suffer from disability than those 10 years ago.  This research–the first to track effects of obesity on disability over time–appears in the November 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Obesity is more hazardous to the health of the elderly than we previously suspected,” said Dr. Dawn Alley, lead author, and Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the School of Medicine. “For an older person, suffering from obesity means they are much less likely to be able to walk to the front door or pick up a bag of groceries.”

The study reveals that obesity, which has become more common among older Americans, is having an increasingly profound impact on their day-to-day activities and overall health. By comparing health data from 1988-1994 to data from 1999-2004, the researchers found that the odds of suffering from functional impairment have increased 43% among obese adults age 60 years and older.  This means they are less able to do things like walk a quarter of a mile, climb 10 steps, pick up a 10-pound weight, and bend over.

“We believe that two factors are likely contributing to the rise in disability among older, obese people,” said Dr. Virginia Chang, assistant professor of medicine; attending physician, Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center; and senior study author.  “First, people are potentially living longer with their obesity due to improved medical care, and second, people are becoming obese at younger ages than in the past.  In both instances, people are living with obesity for longer periods of time, which increases the potential for disability.”

The study evaluated health survey data from 9,928 Americans age 60 years and over from the National Heath and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) conducted from 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2004. Researchers estimated the risk of functional and activities of daily living (ADL) impairment—the inability to move from a bed, dress, or eat–for normal weight, overweight, and obese populations for both time periods, and evaluated trends in the relationship between obesity and disability over time. Results revealed that obesity increased by 8.2% among the population over 60 during this time period, and that the disability gap between obese and non-obese groups widened.  

Researchers also found that obese people are not benefiting from some of the health improvements that the rest of the population is experiencing. For example, although the odds of ADL impairment decreased by 34% among the general population, no such improvements were seen in the obese population.

Other recent studies have suggested that obese populations have actually become healthier since the 1960s. While other obesity-related risk factors—such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol—have declined, this new research suggests that quality of life for obese older people may be deteriorating.

Nurses Want to Leave Hospitals Due to “Moral Distress”

A new study from the Penn School of Nursing has found that 25% of practicing nurses and social workers experience “moral distress” causing them to want to leave their current positions, 41% failed to say they would choose their profession again.  

In one of the first studies to investigate the relationship between ethics and intent to leave, Dr. Connie Ulrich, assistant professor of nursing, found “moral distress” led to feelings of powerlessness (32.5%), feeling overwhelmed (34.7%), frustration (52.8%) and fatigue (40%), noting the nurses’ desire to leave is in part fueled by experiencing more ‘ethical stress’ and an inadequate level of institutional support for dealing with ethical decisions, as well as a perception of little respect for their profession. The study’s findings were published in Social Science and Medicine.

Issues causing moral distress include protecting patients’ rights, supporting them through difficult decisions at the end of life, and fairly distributing resources.  

Lack of respect and trust also had a strong influence on nurses and social workers’ intent to leave.  “Only 58.3% reported that members of ‘‘my profession and physicians respect each other,’’ and only 55.4% indicated that there was trust among nurses and social workers and physicians, the study found.

Nearly two-thirds of the sample reported facing ethical issues over which they have no control with nearly 25% reporting having received no ethics training. “With the plethora of career options available today, young nurses and social workers may leave a profession if they feel stress, disrespect and dissatisfaction,” said Dr. Ulrich. She suggests investing in institutional ethics resources and establishing a climate of respect for the contributions of nurses and social workers to ethical decision making, as ways to possibly increase job satisfaction and decrease turnover.

Carbon Nanopipettes Able to Measure Electric Current

Penn engineers and physicians have developed a carbon nanopipette thousands of times thinner than a human hair that measures electric current and delivers fluids into cells. Researchers developed this tiny carbon-based tool to probe cells with minimal intrusion and inject fluids without damaging or inhibiting cell growth.

Glass micropipettes are found in almost every cell laboratory in the world but are fragile at small scales, can cause irreparable cell damage and cannot be used as injectors and electrodes simultaneously. Dr. Haim Bau, professor of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics in SEAS, and his team, developed tiny carbon-based pipettes that can be mass-produced to eliminate the problems associated with glass micropipettes. Although they range in size from a few tens to a few hundred nanometers, they are far stronger and more flexible than traditional glass micropipettes. If the tip of a carbon nanopipette, or CNP, is pressed against a surface, the carbon tip bends and flexes, then recovers its initial shape. They are rigid enough to penetrate muscle cells, carcinoma cells and neurons.

Researchers believe the pipettes will be useful for concurrently measuring electrical signals of cells during fluid injection. In addition, the pipettes are transparent to X-rays and electrons, making them useful when imaging even at the molecular level. Adding a functionalized protein to the pipette creates a nanoscale biosensor that can detect the presence of proteins.

“Penn’s Micro-Nano Fluidics Laboratory now mass-produces these pipettes and uses them to inject reagents into cells without damaging the cells,” Dr. Bau said. “We are ultimately interested in developing nanosurgery tools to monitor cellular processes and control or alter cellular functions.”

Just as important as the mechanical properties of carbon nanopipettes, however, is the ease of fabrication, said Michael Schrlau, a doctoral candidate in SEAS and first author of the study, “Carbon Nanopipettes for Cell Probes and Intracellular Injection,” published in Nanotechnology. “After depositing a carbon film inside quartz micropipettes, we wet-etch away the quartz tip to expose a carbon nanopipe. We can simultaneously produce hundreds of these integrated nanoscale devices without any complex assembly,” he said.

In addition to Dr. Bau and Mr. Schrlau, the research was performed by research specialist Erica Falls and assistant professor Barry Ziober of the department of otorhinolaryngology at the School of Medicine.



Almanac - January 22, 2008, Volume 54, No. 18