Friday, December 31, 2010

Half-Life of a Blog Post

This is old news for veteran bloggers, but I was just curious about my contribution to the Huffington Post Divorce section on the Divorce Research of 2010 and the comments. 

The article was posted at 3:23 am, Dec 28, 2010.  By Noon that day there were seven comments. 

Here are the number of comments between Noon - 8pm that day

Noon     14
1 pm      38
2 pm      52
3 pm      35
4 pm      22
5 pm      17
6 pm       8
7 pm      11
8 pm        5

Between 9 pm and and 10 pm there were five more comments and then between 11 pm and 1 am on Dec 29, 2010, there were 25 comments In the 48 following hours there were 4 additional comments. 

This does not mean that this contribution is still not being viewed (I don't have access to these data.), but it does mean that at least in  this particular case, the commenting on this post lasted about 12 hours.  I am sure that the Huffington Post has more data about the pattern of comments, the demographics of the "commenters" themselves, but this does give you a feel for the brevity of the life of a discussion on the Huffington Post and probably many "news" sites. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Celebrity Divorce as a Teaching Tool

The most frequent topics on the Huffington Post Divorce page is about celebrity divorces. 

I haven't done a systematic analysis, but I would suspect that more than 90% of the postings are about celebrities. 

This has made me wonder about whether there are ways to use people's interest in celebrities to teach or to interest people in useful information about divorce, relationships, family life, etc. 

Here is an example by one of the editors of Us magazine:   There are a couple of ideas that probably apply generally to non-celebrity couples such as spending time together and considering who you share information with about your marriage-- for most of us we have little worry about some meddlesome paparazzi or television reporter revealing our lives, but friends and family can be intrusive or harmful in some cases. 

But much of what is in this article isn't very helpful to ordinary couples because we don't face the same challenges of high-profile celebrities... so I am not sure if this strategy makes any sense. 

It is also possible that "celebrity names and events" can be used to get accidental page views by unsuspecting web surfers or to use as celebrity news events as a bridge to everyday lives.  For example, parents fighting over custody as a basis for talking about the effects of custody battles on children and so forth.  

I am going to look for opportunities to try out some approaches to incorporating celebrities into my postings. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reactions to Divorce Research 2010 Blog Post

About 36 hours ago, Huffington Post Divorce editor, Ashley Reich and I posted the results of ten research articles published in scientific journals in 2010.  (see this post for more background.)

As of this morning there were also 300 comments, over 900 re-tweets, and 60+ shares on Facebook.  Interesting.  The postings are mostly the findings themselves without much embellishment.  Six of these studies were in the news earlier in the year, but four of the studies have not had a news release prepared and/or released to the public.  Readers also have the opportunity to rate the "most interesting" study and/or findings.  Again as of today, the most interesting finding is from Gharzarian and Buehler study of the way in which marital conflict is linked to academic achievement.  (complete study here)  Again this is a study that I don't think has been in the news in general. 

I have not done an extensive analysis of the comments, but they are interesting.  Some indicate that there are some savvy readers such as this comment that shows the author is quite familiar with the research literature and methods:
"There is an entire academic industry based on exploring the impacts of divorce on children. Most use a cross-sect­ional design, examining difference­s between children from divorced & intact households­. These designs lead to self-selec­tion issues (despite attempts to control for confoundin­g factors), as children are not randomly assigned to the divorced or intact group. Longitudin­al studies, which circumvent these problems, are becoming more common and often corroborat­e cross-sect­ional findings, although the effect sizes are typically much smaller. With regards to the tuition finding, an earlier study of Albuquerqu­e men found that men invested most in the college expenses of their biological children of their current spouse, then roughly equal in current step-child­ren and biological children of previous spouses, and by far the least in former step-child­ren from previous marriages. The fact that these effects were found from both the point of view of the child and the father suggests that the effect is real."  
There are also comments like this one which indicates that some readers make it sound like they understand the statistics and scientific methods, but do not completely understand the source and substance of this work:

"I don't doubt at all that divorce has a negative effect on kids... I have made some comments to that idea regarding public education.

But, while there may be correlatio­n—and maybe some causation—­I doubt many of these studies are very statistica­lly significan­t. Are we really supposed to believe that if our parents get divorced we are 100% more likely to have a stroke BECAUSE they decided to get divorced?

Spurious data and info ki//s me... the example we used was that divorce rate (coinciden­tally) doubled for each country club a man belonged to; therefore, 1 membership doubled the chances, 2 membership­s tripled the rate... I doubt that golf is the leading cause of divorce."

Overall, many of the comments suggest that they are reading the findings and thinking about the issues that are presented.  This makes me hopeful about the degree to which behavioral scientists can use new media methodologies to distribute their findings. 

New York Times-- Teaching Family Life Education

The New York Times creates an interesting feature in which they use the "news" as a basis for creating lesson plans for students.  Here is there overall approach and strategy:

Here is a sample lesson on children's experiences of living with with their fathers or mothers after divorce.

In general this work is designed for teachers, but there are opportunities for young people to also contribute or take part in this work.  The overall design of this work is nicely done and would be helpful to teachers.  In general, there don't seem to be many examples that use behavioral or social science materials, but this probably reflects the fact that these topics do not easily fit most school curricula. 

This model might be adapted by teachers and/or curriculum developers themselves to develop lessons from a wider variety of news and information sources.

Here are some examples on the topics of marriage and divorce.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Year In Review of Divorce Research for Huffington Post

Late on Thursday, Dec 22nd, I got an email from the editor at the Huffington Divorce page about helping to identify the "research findings" for the year 2010. Friday morning, Dec 23rd, I woke up early and did a quick review of my own collection of "interesting divorce articles" and a review of the major scientific databases and identified about 40 research studies that seemed to represent the important new findings that were shaping our understanding of divorce and also might be of interest to the general public. So I sent the following list of topical ideas to the editor:

military service and divorce
patterns of divorce in China
the genetic contributions to divorce
a better understanding of how marital conflict affects children
the risk of former partner violence around the time of pregnancy/birth
perceived household task sharing and marital happiness (or not)
Children with special needs including autism and likelihood of divorce
New online program for stepfamilies that looks promising
New evidence that indicates the effectiveness of mediation programs for divorcing couples

The editor replied that this was an interesting list and asked if I was willing to write short summaries of all of these except autism and the stepfamily program. She either indicated that they already had these or these were less interesting. (not sure of this).

So I began to re-read and summarize each of the articles I had selected on each of these topics. Although this seemed like it would be pretty easy, I suspect that I spent 4-5 hours on this. I spent a lot of time on two articles related to genetics and divorce and I realized I just did not have a sufficient grasp of this science to do a summary that I trusted. One my New Year's resolutions will be to learn more about this area of science so I can better understand developments in this area. Anyway I sent off my summaries which will be edited and become part of this year in review slide show for the Huffington Post. This coming year I am going to spend more time putting this review together and do a quick monthly review of new articles so that I have a better representation of the research at the end of the year.

The following article appeared at the Huffington Post:

Below you will see my original contribution (before editing) of my submission to the Huffington Post.


Interesting Research Studies Related to Divorce (2010). 

Military service and divorce
Military service couples are more likely to get divorced, a recent prevention program offers help. Scott Stanley and his colleagues have designed a marital relationship program called, Strong Bonds, that is designed to teach military couples important communication and conflict management skills. Married U.S. Army couples recently participated in a test of whether this program would reduce divorce. One-half the group participated in the program and the other half did not. The results showed that about 2% of the couples who participated in the program were divorced one year later and 6% of the couples were divorced who did not participate in the program. These findings suggest that couple education can reduce the risk of divorce.

Stanley, S. M., Allen, E. S., Markman, H. J., Rhoades, G. K., & Prentice, D. L. (2010). Decreasing divorce in U.S. army couples: Results from a randomized controlled trial using PREP for strong bonds. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 9(2), 149-160. doi:10.1080/15332691003694901

Patterns of divorce in China
China has been undergoing rapid changes in economic growth and relocation from rural to urban communities. A recent report on changes in the divorce rate suggest that China’s family life is also rapidly changing. Qingbin Wang and Qin Zhou recently reported in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage that the divorce rate in China has increased over 200% since 1980. There is wide variation in the divorce rate across the various provinces in China which vary in terms of ethnicity, religion, and so forth. These results indicate that those regions with the greatest economic growth the largest number of college-educated people have the highest divorce rate. Xinjiang province had the highest divorce rate, followed by the northeast region of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning. Changes in social and family life will be important to the future of China.

Wang, Q., & Zhou, Q. (2010). China's divorce and remarriage rates: Trends and regional disparities. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 51(4), 257-267. doi:10.1080/10502551003597949

A better understanding of how marital conflict affects children
One of the most consistent findings is the link between divorce and marital conflict and children’s difficulties in school. Despite this finding scientists know relatively little about the mechanisms that cause these results and the factors that might prevent these outcomes. Sharon Ghazarian and Cheryl Buehler recently reported on a study that provides new insight into these issues. Based on a sample of over 2,000 sixth grade boys and girls, these researchers measured marital conflict, parent-child relationships, children’s academic achievement and children’s coping with their parents’ disagreements. Their findings indicated that that the way that parental conflict affects young people is through their children’s feelings of self-blame for the conflict. Youth interpret their parents’ conflicts as stressful and they are more likely to blame themselves by these experiences. These results were similar for girls and boys. These findings suggest the importance of helping children understand parental conflict and developing coping strategies that do not involve blaming oneself. Supportive parents and other caring adults also crucial to helping young people whose parents are in conflict. 

Ghazarian, S. R., & Buehler, C. (2010). Interparental conflict and academic achievement: An examination of mediating and moderating factors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(1), 23-35. doi:10.1007/s10964-008-9360-1
The risk of former partner violence around the time of pregnancy/birth
Physical violence during pregnancy can be harmful to mothers and their children. It is estimated that between 4-9% of pregnant women experience violence from their partners. A recent study conducted by the CDC looked at intimate partner violence in more detail. Based on reports from about 135,000 women in 27 states, the researchers examined the extent of violence and the characteristics of the abusers and their living circumstances. The findings indicated that former partners (4.5%) were more likely to be violent than current partners (3.5%). Women who were recently separated or divorced were substantially more likely to experience violence during their pregnancy (12%) compared to women whose marriages had not broken up (less than 2%). These findings indicate the importance of screening pregnant women about violence from both former and current partners. It is also important to have programs and services available to women who are identified to prevent further violence.

Chu, S. Y., Goodwin, M. M., & D'Angelo, D. V. (2010). Physical violence against U.S. women around the time of pregnancy, 2004–2007. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 38(3), 317-322. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2009.11.013

Perceived household task sharing and marital happiness (or not)
Many recently married husbands and wives report conflicts over who does the household chores. Indeed this is often the source of issues related to divorce. However, even though wives usually do almost twice as much work in the home compared to their husbands, they usually report this division of labor as fair. This finding has long puzzled researchers who study couples. Recent data has begun to provide more insight into wives’ views of management of household chores. Sayaka Kawamura and Susan Brown at Bowling Green State University hypothesized that wives’ perceptions that they “matter” to their husbands is strongly related to their feelings of fairness about household chores. In short, they suggest that marital satisfaction has less to do with the equal exchange of resources and more to do with feelings of love and intimacy. They studied over 900 women who reported on the fairness of the division of household labor and the degree to which their husband’s made them feel important or that they mattered. They asked questions such as: “How often does your husband make you feel he is there for you when you need him?” and “How often does your husband make you feel he really cares about you?” The results indicated that wives who feeling respected and cared for substantially predicted being positive about the division of household chores. These findings held up across age, ethnic and economic groups. Kawamura and Brown write, “Mattering taps into an individual’s beliefs about the spouse’s supportiveness, as evidenced by respect, concern, appreciation and so forth…” This may be the source of marital satisfaction.

Kawamura, S., & Brown, S. L. (2010). Mattering and wives’ perceived fairness of the division of household labor. Social Science Research, 39(6), 976-986. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2010.04.004
(no link to study)

New evidence that indicates the effectiveness of mediation programs for divorcing couples
There are numerous horror reports about divorcing couples and their court room battles. For the past 20 years courts and divorcing couples have been trying out alternative ways of reducing the conflict and animosity that is often associated with litigation. The primary alternative has been mediation which involves couples working with a professional who helps the couples find common ground. There have been several evaluation studies of these efforts that suggests this method reduces couple’s conflict and leads to more enduring resolutions of custody and parenting plans. A recent report in Conflict Resolution Quarterly by Lori Shaw provides the most promising evidence to date about the effectiveness of these programs. Shaw combined the results of the five most rigorous evaluation studies to compare multiple methods across diverse settings and circumstances. She reports that compared to litigation, divorcing couples using mediation are more satisfied with the process, the outcomes, their spousal relationship and their understanding of children’s needs. These results have important implications for court systems and divorcing couples. 

Shaw, L. A. (2010). Divorce mediation outcome research: A meta-analysis. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 27(4), 447-467. doi:10.1002/crq.20006

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Outline of an Educational Blog Post on Divorce

In writing for the Huffington Divorce page, I am trying to develop blog posts that have the following structure:

a) interesting/engaging/provocative opening sentence
b) a couple of interesting practical ideas that could be helpful to someone
c) links, directions, ideas about how learn more or do something to more.

This is one of my better posts in which I feel like I executed my approach well:

Additionally, I cite the research literature when appropriate and I use scientist's names to link to ideas or findings. I am also trying to take a hopeful, but realistic perspective on these issues. To do this I try to distinguish between what can be changed and what can't be changed in order to provide a broader perspective.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blogging for Huffington Post on Divorce

For the past month or so I have been writing for the Huffington Post Divorce page. This work gives a chance to return to my primary professional work which is as a educator regarding issues related to families.

For several years I have admonished and cajoled colleagues about the need for scientists and teachers to use the web as a platform for teaching. (See my comments about the importance of scientists and professionals blogging about the link between autism and vaccines.) When I was approached by the editors at the Huffington Post about being a blogger for their newly launching web page on divorce , I knew I had to do this. I have now posted four posts (about one per week). (See my Huffington Posts work here: )

My first post on the role of religion in shaping attitudes about divorce got the most (151) comments (both thoughtful and odd). My most recent post on the role of conflict in preventing divorce got the smallest number of comments (2). It is hard to know why one post gets more comments than others.

I will continue to try this medium. Here I will describe my various reactions to "teaching" in the Huffington Post.