Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where Do You Come From?

A few years ago, I found the perfect birthday gift for my husband -- a DNA test kit from the National Geographic Genographic Project. Following simple instructions, he did a simple cheek swab (just like the T.V. show, CSI) to provide a DNA sample, put the swabs into the enclosed transport tubes, and mailed the tubes to the lab in the supplied envelope. Several weeks later, he received a report based on the analysis of his DNA and a map showing the migration of his ancestors -- from Africa through the Middle East and finally to Eastern Europe, the most recent location and birthplace of his grandparents.

According to the Genographic Project , the results "reveal your deep ancestry along a single line of direct descent (paternal or maternal) and show the migration paths they followed thousands of years ago. Your results will also place you on a particular branch of the human family tree. Some anthropological stories are more detailed than others, depending upon the lineage you belong to. For example, if you are of African descent, your results will show the initial movements of your ancestors on the African continent, but will not reflect most of the migrations that have occurred within the past 10,000 years. Your individual results may confirm your expectations of what you believe your deep ancestry to be, or you may be surprised to learn a new story about your genetic background. This is not a genealogy study. You will not learn about your great-grandparents or other recent relatives, and your DNA trail will not necessarily lead to your present-day location. Rather, your results will reveal the anthropological story of your direct maternal or paternal ancestors—where they lived and how they migrated around the world many thousands of years ago.

In this video, Dr. Spencer Wells of the Genographic Project explains the project in more detail. He takes you to Grand Central Station in New York City to meet with four strangers with different backgrounds who discover they are more similar and more connected than you might think.

For more information or to participate in the project, go to:

Monday, November 23, 2009

More On Social Connections & Our Lives

In a recent post, I summarized the Pew Research Center's findings about the larger, more diverse social networks of people who use social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

As my students and I continue to discuss social groups and how they impact our lives, more scientific findings have emerged that confirm the powerful effect of "human connections" on the individual.

In their book
Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, scientists, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, present "compelling evidence for our profound influence on one another's tastes, health, wealth, happiness, beliefs, even weight, as they explain how social networks form and how they operate" (Connected: The Book).

Students of introductory sociology might be reminded of Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). See photo upper left. Durkheim was concerned with how societies function, more specifically, social solidarity, or what binds individuals together. A highly cohesive group can be described as one that feels united by shared beliefs, values and/or other social connections (Henslin, 2002:90).

One might wonder what Durkheim would say about these findings.
Here is a video where scientists, Christakis and Fowler, talk about their book, Connections:

To read or hear an excerpt from the book and explore some interesting interactives, go to

Works Cited:
Connected: The Book
Henslin, James N. (2002) Essentials of Sociology: A Down-To-Earth Approach
Allyn & Bacon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Unnatural Causes: Arriving Healthy

During the past week, students in my online course, SOC 320 Gender, Race & Class, discussed the impact of inequality on physical and psychological health. To supplement the readings in the text, we viewed video clips from an excellent PBS documentary, Unnatural Causes.

One segment called "Becoming American", pointed out that "New immigrants arriving in the United States tend to be healthier than the average American, but as they remain in the country, their health declines." (Unnatural Causes).
Another interesting finding is the "Latino Paradox", "the fact that new Latino immigrants, despite having on average lower incomes and highly stressful lives, suffer lower rates of chronic and mental illness than the average native-born American." (Unnatural Causes) NOTE: See my posting on Nov. 23rd on the book Connections. Could it be that the "social connectedness" of Latino immigrant families gives them some "immunity" from mental illness?
According to Alameda County, California Public Health Director, Tony Iton, MD, "Immigrants bring to this country aspects of culture, of tradition, of tight family social networks and community social networks that essentially form a shield around them and allow them to withstand the deleterious, negative impacts of American culture" (Unnatural Causes).

Video at:

To view the entire episode "Becoming American" (29 minutes), click HERE.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Social Networkers Have Larger, More Diverse Personal Networks

A new study, the Pew Networks and Community Survey, conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, shows that the use of internet technology and mobile phones does not necessarily predict social isolation. In fact, people who use social networking websites, such as Facebook, tend to have larger and more diverse social networks.

Can Social Networking Make Us More Tolerant?

According to the study's author, Keith N. Hampton, Ph.D.,
"Those with more diverse personal networks have access to more and better information, they tend to be more trusting and more tolerant, and they tend to be physically and mentally healthier." (See Dr. Hampton's blog at

Below is a list of the study's findings, which are outlined in the executive summary of the report:

"Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. We find that the extent of social isolation has hardly changed since 1985, contrary to concerns that the prevalence of severe isolation has tripled since then.

.....ownership of a mobile phone and participation in a variety of internet activities are associated with larger and more diverse core discussion networks. (Discussion networks are a key measure of people’s most important social ties.)

Social media activities are associated with several beneficial social activities, including having discussion networks that are more likely to contain people from different backgrounds. For instance, frequent internet users, and those who maintain a blog are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race. Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party.

When we examine people’s full personal network – their strong ties and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with having a more diverse social network. Again, this flies against the notion that technology pulls people away from social engagement.

..internet users are as likely as anyone else to visit with their neighbors in person. Cell phone users, those who use the internet frequently at work, and bloggers are more likely to belong to a local voluntary association, such as a youth group or a charitable organization. However, we find some evidence that use of social networking services (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) substitutes for some neighborhood involvement.

Internet use does not pull people away from public places. Rather, it is associated with engagement in places such as parks, cafes, and restaurants, the kinds of locales where research shows that people are likely to encounter a wider array of people and diverse points of view.

People’s mobile phone use outpaces their use of landline phones as a primary method of staying in touch with their closest family and friends, but face-to-face contact still trumps all other methods.

Challenging the assumption that internet use encourages social contact across vast distances, we find that many internet technologies are used as much for local contact as they are for distant communication. (Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community Survey)

Source: Social Isolation and New Technology Keith Hampton, Lauren Sessions, Eun Ja Her, Lee Raine 4 November 2009 (

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Diversity Consciousness: Do You Have It?

You probably know your IQ. And, you may be familiar with EQ (emotional intelligence), but have you heard of CQ "cultural intelligence"? According to David Livermore, author of Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success (AMACOM; September 2009):

"Cultural intelligence is defined as the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures. And research demonstrates a leader’s CQ may easily be the single greatest difference between thriving in the 21st century world and becoming obsolete.”

Dr. Livermore explains Cultural Intelligence in the following video, located at:

Would you like to know your CQ?

Your CQ can be tested using Dr. Livermore's first academically validated assessment of cultural intelligence, an instrument which has been used in more than 30 countries. Just go to the following link:

Another term for CQ is diversity consciousness. Sociologist, Richard D. Bucher, explains:

"Diversity consciousness is characterized by understanding, openness, and sensitivity toward people who are "different." (Bucher & Bucher). Bucher identifies nine (9) megaskills that we need to develop in order to achieve "diversity consciousness":

1) Understanding my cultural identity - looking inward and understanding our own thoughts, biases, behaviors and cultural identity.

2) Checking cultural lenses - recognizing the ways in which cultural backgrounds differ and how they influence thinking, behavior and assumptions.

3) Global consciousness - moving across boundaries and seeing the world from multiple perspectives.

4) Shifting perspectives - putting ourselves in someone else's shoes and someone else's culture.

5) Intercultural communication - exchanging ideas and feelings and creating meanings with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

6) Managing cross-cultural conflict – the ability to deal with conflict among people from differing cultural backgrounds in an effective and constructive manner.

7) Multicultural teaming – working with others from diverse cultural backgrounds to accomplish certain tasks

8) Dealing with bias – recognizing bias in ourselves and others and dealing with it effectively

9) Understanding the dynamics of power – grasping how power and culture interrelate and the effect of power on how we see the world and relate to others.

Source: Building Cultural Intelligence: Nine Megaskills (CQ) by Richard D. Bucher and Patricia L. Bucher

Try to assess your diversity consciousness with the following sample test,

click here: Where Am I Now?


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Gender & The Media

Last week, students in my online course, Gender, Race & Class, discussed gender stereotypes and how the media construct the "ideal" man and woman. While we may be born "male" or "female", we learn to be a "man" or a "woman". Social institutions such as the family, the school and religion, shape our gender identity, roles and behavior. However, the mass media also play a significant role in constructing gender.
The Media Education Foundation examines the relationship between pop-cultural imagery and the social construction of feminine and masculine identities in the U.S. (Media Education Foundation).
Many studies have shown the powerful effect of the media on the body image and gender identity of girls and boys. The National Insitute on Media & The Family has summarized some of this research:
"The popular media (television, movies, magazines, etc.) have, since World War II, increasingly held up a thinner and thinner body (and now ever more physically fit) image as the ideal for women. The ideal man is also presented as trim, but muscular.

  • Research studies have found that the schematic association of attractiveness and thinness with goodness was present in over 100 female characters appearing in 23 Walt Disney animated films produced over a 60-year period.

  • Studies show that thin female characters in television situation comedies were more likely than heavier female characters to be praised by male characters, and less likely to be insulted by male characters in ways deliberately tied to evocation of “canned” and supportive audience laughter.

  • One study found that the majority of nearly 550 working class adolescent girls were dissatisfied with their weight and shape. Almost 70% of the sample stated that pictures in magazines influence their conception of the “perfect” body shape, and over 45% indicated that those images motivated them to lose weight. Further, adolescent girls who were more frequent readers of women’s magazines were more likely to report being influenced to think about the perfect body, to be dissatisfied with their own body, to want to lose weight, and to diet.

  • Teen-age girls who viewed commercials depicting women who modeled the unrealistically thin-ideal type of beauty caused adolescent girls to feel less confident, more angry and more dissatisfied with their weight and appearance.

  • In a study on fifth graders, 10 year old girls and boys told researchers they were dissatisfied with their own bodies after watching a music video by Britney Spears or a clip from the TV show "Friends".

Click HERE to view the sources of the above studies.