Tag: Social Sciences

Want Success in Business? Have a Diverse Workforce

Diversity in gender and ethnicity among employees can lead to over 50% improvement in company decision-making.

Gender and ethnic diversity in the workplace are not just a matter of morality or political correctness, according to Prof. Thalma Lobel of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences. Lobel explains that diversity, in fact, contributes to the success of companies and organizations worldwide.  
“When you bring people with different opinions into the room, the decision-making process becomes more complex, and the participants take more information into account. The more perspectives and points of view that are heard, the greater the chances of reaching a better solution.”
 

More Points of View

In her study, Lobel presents a wealth of empirical evidence that gender and ethnic diversity improves the performance of companies and organizations – to the point of bringing about a 58% improvement in decision-making. She mentions as an example a 2008 report, which she says, “found that among the companies included in the Fortune 500 list, those whose board of directors included more women achieved better financial results.” In another example, researchers from the Credit Suisse Research Institute surveyed 2,360 companies and found that the ones whose board of directors included at least one woman performed better than those whose board consisted of only men. A McKinsey report examined the impact of gender and multinational diversity on companies’ financial performance. The researchers looked at the composition of the boards of directors of 180 companies in France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States from 2008 to 2010, and the results were clear: the financial success of the companies that were characterized by diversity were significantly higher than those that were less diverse.” According to Prof. Lobel, these and other studies clearly demonstrate that diversity offers significant benefits to companies and improves their functioning, since people from different backgrounds bring with them a variety of perspectives, points of view, and types of knowledge, and this variety contributes to innovation and creativity: “When you bring people with different opinions into the room, the decision-making process becomes more complex and the participants take more information into account. The more perspectives and points of view that are heard, the greater the chances of reaching a better solution.”   Prof. Thalma Lobel  
“This was a surprising finding which may have far-reaching implications: the mere presence of the minorities changed the trend of decision-making.”
 

Diversity – Louder than Words

Diversity in the workplace, in fact, improves performance even if the diverse perspectives are not heard at all. “Researchers examined the effect of diversity in racial origin on decision-making and the performance of traders in the capital market,” says Prof. Lobel. “They invited people with a financial background to participate in the study, and trained them to calculate the intrinsic value of stocks. The participants were then divided into groups with either a homogenous or diverse make-up. The diverse groups included at least one person of a different origin than the other participants. The researchers conducted their study in two markets – North America and Southeast Asia. “In North America, the homogenous group included only white traders, while the diverse group included one trader of African-American origin and one of Latino origin. In Asia, the homogenous group was composed of only Chinese traders, and the diverse group also included traders from Malaysia and India. The results were astonishing: the members of the diverse groups demonstrated a significantly higher level of accuracy in stock pricing than the homogeneous groups. Their ability to quote a price that reflected the true value of the assets was 58% higher. “The members of the homogeneous groups tended to pay unreasonable and exorbitant prices, which were further from the true value of the stocks than those quoted by the diverse groups. In other words, the chances of a dangerous bubble forming were higher when the trading was carried out by a homogenous group, and lower when the traders belonged to different ethnic groups. This was a surprising finding which may have far-reaching implications: the mere presence of the minorities changed the trend of decision-making.”  
“When you form a team, task force or committee, try to include as many people as possible from a variety of ethnic groups, genders, and backgrounds.”
 

Get an Outsider’s Opinion

In her book, Whatever Works, published in the United States in 2020, Prof. Lobel presents findings that extend far beyond the world of work and business: A study conducted by Prof. Richard Freeman and his doctoral student Wei Huang of Harvard University compared 2.5M articles published in scientific journals, and found that articles whose authors came from diverse ethnic backgrounds garnered more mentions and citations in the scientific literature. “Many studies show that working in a diverse team contributes to better decision-making,” Prof. Lobel concludes. “In light of this, you should take a look around the next time you’re working on a joint project. Are all your team members of the same gender and ethnic group as you? If the answer is yes, you should carefully consider all your options and avoid rushing to make any decisions. You will likely benefit from getting an outsider’s opinion. When you form a team, task force or committee, try to include as many people as possible from a variety of ethnic groups, genders, and backgrounds.”

Facebook Proven to Negatively Impact Mental Health

New study first to establish causal link between use of the platform and reported worsening in anxiety and depression among college students.

While many studies have found a correlation between the use of social media and various symptoms related to mental health, so far, it has been challenging to ascertain whether social media was actually the cause of poor mental health. By applying a novel research method, researchers have now succeeded in establishing such a causality: A study led by researchers from Tel Aviv University, MIT Sloan School of Management and Bocconi University reveals new findings about the negative impact of Facebook on the mental health of American college students.

 

The study was led by Dr. Roee Levy of the Berglas School of Economics at Tel Aviv University, Prof. Alexey Makarin of MIT Sloan School of Management, and Prof. Luca Braghieri of Bocconi University. The paper is forthcoming in the scientific journal American Economic Review, and was awarded a prize at the 2022 Economic Society European Meeting (ESEM).

 

“Over the last fifteen years, the mental health trends of adolescents and young adults in the United States have worsened considerably,” says Prof. Braghieri. “Since such worsening in trends coincided with the rise of social media, it seemed plausible to speculate that the two phenomena might be related.” 

 

The study was based on data that dates back to the 2004 advent of Facebook at Harvard University, before it took the internet by storm. Facebook was initially accessible only to Harvard students who had a Harvard email address. Quickly spreading to other colleges in and outside the US, the network was made available to the general public in the US and beyond in September 2006. The researchers were able to analyze the impact of social media use by comparing colleges that had access to the platform to colleges that did not. The findings show a rise in the number of students reporting severe depression and anxiety (7% and 20% respectively). 

 

“We hypothesized that unfavorable social comparisons could explain the effects we found, and that students more susceptible to such comparisons were more likely to suffer negative effects.”

 

 

Here Comes Trouble

The study combined information from two different datasets: the specific dates on which Facebook was introduced at 775 American colleges, and the National College Health Assessment (NCHA), a survey conducted periodically at American colleges.

 

The researchers built an index based on 15 relevant questions in the NCHA, in which students were asked about their mental health in the past year. They found a statistically significant worsening in mental health symptoms, especially depression and anxiety, after the arrival of Facebook: 

  • 7% increase in number of students who reported having suffering, at least once during the preceding year, depression so severe that it was difficult for them to function 
  • 20% increase in number of students who reported anxiety disorders 
  • 2% increase in number of students expected to experience moderate to severe depression 
  • 3% increase in number of students experienced impairment to their academic performance due to depression or anxiety 
     

Dr. Roee Levy (Photo: Oren Sarig)

 

 

Social Media vs. Social Circumstances

TAU’s Dr. Levy notes, “When studying the potential mechanisms, we hypothesized that unfavorable social comparisons could explain the effects we found, and that students more susceptible to such comparisons were more likely to suffer negative effects.”

 

“More students believed that others consumed more alcohol, even though alcohol consumption had not changed significantly.”  

 

In other words, the methodology also considered any differences in mental health over time or across colleges that were not related to Facebook. This approach enabled conditions similar to those of a ‘natural experiment,’ which would be impossible today now that billions of people around the world use many different social networks.

 

To test this interpretation, the team investigated more data from the NCHA. They found, for example, a greater negative impact on the mental health of students who lived off-campus and were consequently less involved in social activities, and a greater negative impact on students with credit card debts who saw their supposedly wealthier peers on the network. 

 

“We also found evidence that Facebook had changed students’ beliefs about their peers,” adds Levy. “More students believed that others consumed more alcohol, even though alcohol consumption had not changed significantly.”  

Can Music Help Prevent Severe Cognitive Decline?

TAU researchers developed musical tests to detect mental deterioration in old age.

Modern technology contributes to increased longevity and thus to the growth of the elderly population. It is therefore important to take steps to ensure their quality of life, including inventing tools for accessible and quick diagnosis of age-related conditions. While preventative tests are commonly accepted for a variety of physiological problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or breast cancer, no method has yet been developed to enable routine, accessible monitoring of the brain for cognitive issues.

 

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a method that employs musical tests and a portable instrument for measuring brain activity to detect cognitive decline in old age. The method entails measuring 15 minutes of electrical activity in the subject’s brain while he or she performs simple musical tasks and can be easily implemented by any staff member in any clinic, without requiring special training. The researchers believe the method could pave the way towards early detection of cognitive decline when treatment and prevention of severe decline are possible, improving the quality of life of millions around the world

 

Many Powers of Music

The study was led at Tel Aviv University by PhD student Neta Maimon from the School of Psychological Sciences and the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, and Lior Molcho from Neurosteer Ltd, headed by Prof. Nathan Intrator from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science and the Sagol School of Neuroscience. Other participants included: Adi Sasson, Sarit Rabinowitz, and Noa Regev-Plotnick from the Dorot-Netanya Geriatric Medical Center. The article was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

 

As part of the study, the researchers developed a groundbreaking method combining a portable device for the measurement and innovative analysis of electroencephalography (EEG), developed by Neurosteer, and a short musical test of about 12-15 minutes, developed by Maimon.

 

“We have actually succeeded in illustrating that music is indeed an effective tool for measuring brain activity.”

 

Maimon, who specializes in musical cognition, explains that music has great influence on different centers in the brain. On the one hand, music is known to be a quick mood stimulant, particularly of positive emotion. On the other hand, in different situations, music can be cognitively challenging, activating the frontal parts of the brain, especially if we try to concentrate on different aspects of the music, and at the same time perform a particular task. According to Maimon, if we combine these two capabilities, we can create cognitive tests that are quite complex, yet also pleasant and easy to perform.

 

Neta Maimon specializes in musical cognition

 

Furthermore, music that is positive and reasonably rhythmic will enhance concentration and performance of the task. Thus, for example, the famous “Mozart effect,” whereby subjects perform better on intelligence tests after listening to Mozart’s music, has nothing to do with Mozart’s music, but rather the fact that music creates a positive mood and stimulates us to a state that is optimal for performing intelligence and creativity tests.

 

Accordingly, the researchers hypothesized that with musical tools, it would also be possible to challenge the subjects to an extent that would enable testing of the brain’s frontal activity as well as raising their spirits, thus enhancing their performance on the test while the overall experience is pleasant.

 

Enabling Early Detection of Cognitive Decline

The study included an experiment testing 50 elderly people hospitalized at the Dorot-Netanya Geriatric Medical Center. “Anyone hospitalized at Dorot, or any other geriatric rehabilitation institution, undergoes a standard test called ‘mini-mental,’ designed to evaluate their cognitive condition as a routine part of the intake process,” explains Maimon.

 

During the test, the subject is connected to the portable EEG device by means of an adhesive band with three electrodes attached to the forehead. The test includes a variety of tasks, including enumerating the days of the week or months of the year backwards. The subject performs a series of musical-cognitive tasks according to audible instructions given automatically through earphones. Short melodies are played by different instruments, and the subjects are instructed to perform various tasks on them at varying levels of difficulty. For example, pressing a button each time any melody is played or pressing it only when the violin plays. In addition, the test includes several minutes of musically guided meditation designed to bring the brain to a resting state, as this state is known to indicate cerebral functioning in various situations. Up to 30 points can be accrued, a high score indicating normal cognition.

 

“Our method enables the monitoring of cognitive capability and detection of cognitive decline already in the early stages, all by simple and accessible means.”

 

“The participants scored 18-30 on the mini-mental test, indicating various levels of cognitive functioning,” explains Maimon. “The EEG device registered the electrical activity in the brain during the activity, and the results were analyzed using machine learning technology. This allowed mathematical indices to be identified that were precisely correlated with the mini-mental test scores; in other words, we obtained new neuro-markers [brain markers] that may stand alone as indices of the subject’s cognitive status.”

 

Maimon adds: “We have actually succeeded in illustrating that music is indeed an effective tool for measuring brain activity. The brain activity and response times to tasks correlated to the subjects’ cerebral conditions (correlating to the mini-mental score assigned to them). More importantly, all those who underwent the experiment reported that, on the one hand, it challenged the brain, but on the other it was very pleasant to perform”.

 

The researchers conclude: “Our method enables the monitoring of cognitive capability and detection of cognitive decline already in the early stages, all by simple and accessible means, with a quick and easy test that can be conducted in any clinic. This method is of special importance today due to the increase in longevity and accelerated population growth, particularly among the elderly. Today, millions of people around the world already suffer or are liable to suffer soon from cognitive decline and its dire consequences, and their number will only increase in the coming decades. Our method could pave the way towards efficient cognitive monitoring of the general population, and thus detect cognitive decline in its early stages, when treatment and prevention of severe decline are possible. It is therefore expected to improve the quality of life of millions around the world.”

Scientific discovery may facilitate speedy, objective, and accurate diagnosis of the condition using saliva

Scientific discovery may facilitate speedy, objective, and accurate diagnosis of the condition using saliva.

A scientific breakthrough from the Tel Aviv and Haifa Universities may facilitate speedy, objective, and accurate diagnosis of people suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, using saliva samples, as well as developing microbiotic related medications (associated with the body’s microbial ecology).

 

The study was a joint effort by eminent scholars from various fields. It was led by Professor Illana Gozes and included Professor Noam Shomron, Dr. Shlomo Sragovich and Ph.D. student Guy Shapira, (all from TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience) as well as Prof. Zahava Solomon from TAU’s Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences, and Prof. Abraham Sagi-Schwartz and PhD student Ella Levert-Levitt from the Center for the Study of Child Development and the School of Psychological Sciences at Haifa University. The study was published in NATURE‘s prestigious MOLECULAR PSYCHIATRY magazine.

 

Diagnosing PTSD by Objective Criteria

The researchers tested a unique group of about 200 Israeli veteran soldiers (they all came from a larger cohort of subjects from a comprehensive four-decade-long study of veterans by Prof. Solomon) who had fought in the first Lebanon War in 1982. The test covered various psychological aspects, including sleep, appetite disorders, guilt, suicidal thoughts, social and spousal support, hostility, satisfaction with life, as well as issues of demographics, psychopathology, welfare, health, and education.

 

“We were surprised to discover that about a third of the PTSD subjects had never been diagnosed with post-trauma, so they never received any recognition from the Ministry of Defense and the official authorities.”

 

The researcher also collected saliva samples from them and comparing the results of the subjects’ microbial distribution to the psychological results and their responses to the welfare questionnaires, the researchers from the universities of Tel Aviv and Haifa found that people with PTSD and high psychopathological indications exhibit the same picture of bacteria in the saliva (a unique oral microbiotic signature).

According to the researchers, this study is significant in that for the first time, we might be able to diagnose post-trauma by objective criteria and not just behavioral ones.

One Third of Soldiers Were Undiagnosed

It is interesting to note here that the saliva bacteria of those exposed to air pollution showed a correlation to the picture with PTSD, while the number of years of education showed a protective influence and a reverse picture of the microbial ecology in the saliva. 

 

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first depiction of a microbial signature in the saliva among veteran soldiers with PTSD,” says Prof. Illana Gozes. “We were surprised to discover that about a third of the PTSD subjects had never been diagnosed with post-trauma, so they never received any recognition from the Ministry of Defense and the official authorities.”

 

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first depiction of a microbial signature in the saliva among veteran soldiers with PTSD,”

 

“It must be stressed that until now, post-trauma diagnosis has been based solely on psychological and psychiatric measures. Thanks to this study, it may be possible, in the future, to use objective molecular and biological characteristics to distinguish PSTD sufferers, taking into account environmental influences. We hope that this new discovery and the microbial signatures described in this study might promote easier diagnosis of post-traumatic veteran soldiers so they can receive appropriate treatment.”

The study was also supported by IDF’s Medical Corps Department of Health and Well-Being and Dr. Ariel Ben Yehuda, former chief of the above Department and currently, a Department Manager in the Mental Health Medical Center in Shalvata, Clallit Health Services. The study also involved collaboration with the Charité University Medicine in Berlin and its microbiology experts Dr. Markus M. Heimesaat and Professor Stefan Bereswill, as well as with the University of Hong Kong, which is studying the effects of air pollution, Professors Victor Li and Jacqueline Lam.

Ukrainian Refugees Arriving in Europe

TAU researcher explains the unprecedented show of EU solidarity.

Over 6.5 million people have fled Ukraine over the last three months, following the Russian military invasion. Several more millions are still making their way to the borders, experts estimate, and numbers may continue to grow, depending on the course and outcomes of the war.

EU’s Efforts

Just one week after the invasion began, the European Union agreed to activate the Temporary Protection Directive adopted by the EU in 2001, after the region first saw a massive influx of refugees following the Yugoslavian war.

The Directive is designed to grant group protection to the migrants, allocating them rights to labor, housing, medical aid and education without processing individual cases at least for one year. It helps alleviate the bureaucratic burden on a host country and enables refugees to achieve a degree of normalcy and stability in their daily lives.

“This is the first time all EU member states have agreed to activate the Directive. It wasn’t activated during the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, when over 1,200,000 refugees, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, were seeking asylum within EU borders, or recently, in 2021, when Afghans were fleeing the Taliban,” notes Professor Anastasia Gorodzeisky, the Head of TAU International M.A. Program in Migration Studies, of the School of Social and Policy Studies at the Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences.

The reason for such an unprecedented show of solidarity? “Ukrainians are perceived by the EU states, especially those of Eastern Europe, as people fighting, at least partially, their own war, which is hitting very close to home,” explains Gorodzeisky. “This wasn’t the case in previous refugee waves.” Activating the Directive helped the Europeans feel they are doing something effective and positive to help the situation, she adds.

 

Lviv, Ukraine – March 18, 2022: Ukrainian refugees on Lviv railway station waiting for train to escape to Europe

Where Are the Refugees Headed?

Gorodzeisky says that for now, most of the refugees have settled in the countries that share borders with Ukraine – in Poland and Romania – while others made their way to the Czech Republic. “Eventually, some people will make their way to Germany, or even to the UK, which is harder to enter, as it’s no longer a part of the EU,” she continues.

“Refugees are in general naturally attracted to places with large expat communities,” explains Gorodzeisky. “People tend to go to places where they have relatives, friends, or at least some sort of network of support. These people left with nothing, so a network is very important for them.”

At this point, we have no way of predicting when the refugees will be able to return to their home country. “After the 1992 Yugoslavian War, most of the refugees did return. The reason that most Ukrainian refugees stay in the neighboring countries is their desire to return to Ukraine,” predicts Gorodzeisky, adding that personal circumstances will still play a major role in this decision.

Israel’s Role

Gorodzeisky also reflected on Israel’s role in helping Ukrainians. Israel is historically very conservative in taking in refugees, non-conditionally accepting only those with Jewish roots, which it would have done anyway, she says.

“But we’re good at providing humanitarian help in other ways. We have a highly organized civil society, where people take all sorts of high-impact initiatives that make a difference,” she says, citing as an example a website created by Israeli volunteers in the very first days of the war to centralize information about humanitarian aid efforts for Ukraine. Some Israeli volunteers organized evacuation efforts, other provided help online, including instructions on what to do under fire, which drew on the Israelis’ rich experience of living through conflict, Gorodzeisky concludes.

In the period between the beginning of the war, on February 24, up until April 4th, Israel accepted 21,277 Ukrainian citizens, out of which about 7,000 have Jewish roots. Another 7,000 of them have relatives in Israel, and approximately 5,000 have no formal Israeli ties.

“It’s a dynamic situation, and we’re monitoring it,” says Adv. Anat Ben-Dor, who heads TAU’s Refugee Rights Legal Clinic. She adds that Israel now canceled the monetary deposit requirement for the refugees entering the country, which it implemented in the beginning of the war. The Clinic specializes in the legal rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and provides individuals with pro bono legal representation. 

 

Lviv, Ukraine – March 9, 2022: Ukrainian refugees on Lviv railway station waiting for train to escape to Europe

Featured image: Isaccea, Romania. 05 March, 2022. Refugee Ukrainians walk from Ukraine to Isaccea in Romania after crossing the border.

Want Respect in the Workplace? Drop the Smileys

Employees who communicate with images and emojis are perceived as less powerful.

If you wish to signal power to your colleagues, your boss, or your subordinates, you should consider reducing your use of pictures and emojis in favor of words – these are the conclusions of a new study at Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management.

According to the researchers, “Today we are all accustomed to communicating with pictures, and the social networks make it both easy and fun. Our findings, however, raise a red flag: in some situations, especially in a work or business environment, this practice may be costly, because it signals low power. Our advice: think twice before sending a picture or emoji to people in your organization, or in any other context in which you wish to be perceived as powerful.”

Words are Powerful

The study examined the response of American participants to verbal vs. pictorial messages in different contexts. The results were clear-cut: In all experiments, the respondents attributed more power to the person who chose a verbal vs. a visual representation of the message.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers conducted a series of experiments in which various everyday scenarios were presented to hundreds of American respondents. In one experiment, participants were asked to imagine shopping at a grocery store and seeing another shopper wearing a Red Sox t-shirt. Half of the participants were shown a t-shirt with the verbal logo RED SOX, while the other half saw the pictorial logo. Those who saw the t-shirt with the pictorial logo rated the wearer as less powerful than those who saw the verbal logo.

Pictures Reveal a Desire

Similar results recurred in a range of other contexts. Because of Covid-19, online meetings using platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become an essential organizational fixture. The researchers examined the effects of picture versus word use in this important organizational context.

Participants were asked to choose one of two co-participants to represent them in a competitive game that suited people with high social power. Critically, one co-participant had purportedly chosen to represent themselves with a pictorial profile, while the other had purportedly chosen to represent themselves with a verbal profile. Sixty-two percent of the participants selected the co-participant who chose to represent themselves with a verbal profile. Thus, employees who signal power by using words are more likely to be selected to powerful positions, compared to those who signal weakness by using pictures.

Dr. Elinor Amit from TAU’s Coller School of Management summarizes: “Why do pictures signal that a sender has little power? Research shows that visual messages are often interpreted as a signal for desire for social proximity. A separate body of research shows that less powerful people desire social proximity more than powerful people do. Consequently, signaling that you’d like social proximity by using pictures is essentially signaling you’re less powerful.”

Amit notes that such signaling is usually irrelevant in close relationships, as in communications between family members. However, in many arenas of our lives, especially at work or in business, power relations prevail, and we should be aware of the impression our messages make on their recipients. “Our findings raise a red flag: When you want to signal power – think twice before sending an emoji or a picture,” she concludes.

The study was conducted by Dr. Elinor Amit and Prof. Shai Danziger from Coller School of Management at Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Prof. Pamela K. Smith from the Rady School of Management at UCSD. The paper was published in the prestigious journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Investment in Social Funds Leads to a Reduction in Charitable Donations

Researchers warn that this substitution effect may impact charities negatively.

A new TAU study, the first of its kind, examined whether there is a connection between the rapid growth of investment in social investment funds and the decrease in donations to charitable organizations. The researchers studied the actual investment behavior of approximately 10,000 clients of an investment app, and found that investors switching to invest in a recently introduced social fund reduced their donations, mainly in charities supporting causes similar to those of the social fund.

However, the researchers also found that most of the investors in the social fund had not previously donated to charities, so, looking at the big picture, social funds entice more people to fund social causes.

The study was conducted by Dr. Shai Levi and Prof. Shai Danziger of Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management, in collaboration with Dr. Jake An of the Australian firm Raiz Investing and Prof. Donnel Briley of the University of Sydney. The study was published in the prestigious journal Management Science.

Charities Take a Hit

In recent years, investment firms have been marketing social investments (Environment, Society and Government, or ESG) as a way for investors to achieve financial returns while making a social impact. Such funds will for instance avoid investments in certain industries, like oil, and rather invest in others, like renewable energy.

In 2018, global social investment assets exceeded $30 trillion, an increase of 34% since 2016. During this same period, in the U.S., total donations to nonprofits – the traditional avenue for advancing social goals – dropped 1.1 percent to about $300 billion. Until now, the causal link between the popularity of social investments and the decline in charitable giving had not been examined.

Dr. Levi explains that the study was conducted using the unique database of the Australian digital investment platform Raiz Investment – a phone app aimed primarily at millennials, young investors with relatively small investment portfolios.

According to Dr. Levi, in 2017 Raiz added the option of investing in an ESG social fund, which invests only in companies that meet certain standards of sustainability, social values ​​and governance. Because the app is connected to users’ bank accounts, it was possible to monitor investors’ charitable donations both before and after they joined the fund. The researchers tracked the investments and donations of about 3,300 investors who invested in ESG, about 4,000 investors who invested in another, non-social fund, and another 3,300 investors in a control group, that were matched on investor characteristics to those that had switched to the ESG fund. They found that, on average, investors who contributed to charitable organizations before investing in a social fund tended to donate less afterwards – that is, some investors saw their ESG investment as a kind of donation.

Overall Effect Uncertain

Prof. Danziger points to the complexity of the findings. “On the one hand, investment firms could use social funds as a marketing ploy to attract investors. For example, say you’re told the ESG fund invests only in companies with a low carbon footprint – that doesn’t mean that you’re investing in companies in the field of renewable energy. It can mean that you’re investing in technology giants like Apple, that is, companies that are not necessarily causing damage. Our findings show that after investing in a social fund, investors reduce their traditional contributions to environmental and social nonprofits.”

“On the other hand, since 79% of investors in the ESG fund did not make any charitable contributions before investing, the overall effect must be assessed. Ultimately, the question is whether ESG contributions to society outweigh the decrease in investor donations that result from substitution. In our study, we estimate that overall, funds will have a positive impact on society only if their annual contribution to social causes exceeds 3.2% of the balance invested. In practice, this is difficult to measure, and we don’t know whether the contribution of the social funds crosses this threshold, so it is not clear whether their impact on society is positive.”

In conclusion, the researchers say, “The trend that emerged from the study indicates that investors may replace charities with social funds. This could have a major impact on charities, who will lose a significant source of income and find it difficult to continue to function.”

Rising Temperatures Fuel Increase in Violence: TAU Study

Findings demonstrate first direct link between climate change and criminal behavior.

Rising temperatures increase the likelihood of violent crimes, according to a new study led by Tel Aviv University‘s Dr. Ram Fishman of TAU’s Department of Public Policy, Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences

The novel findings indicate that for every 1-degree Celsius rise over the average daily temperature, the rate of violent crime spikes by one percent. The victims are generally ethnic and religious minorities, women, and political rivals.

The study is the first of its kind to link the day-to-day relationship between weather changes and criminal trends in the developing world.  

​“This is a glaring warning sign of the devastating and worrying consequences of the global climate crisis,” said Fishman, who conducted the study with partners from the UAE, India and the US. “These consequences are already here with us and are gnawing at the very foundations of social and human existence.” 

Dr. Ram Fishman (Photo: Noga Shahar)

In the context of the study, Fishman examined a representative state in India with a crime rate similar to the national average. Results from parallel studies in other countries yielded similar results according to Fishman, Head of the Sustainable Development Lab at TAU’s Boris Mints Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions to Global Challenges. He explained that the analysis performed in India can be tailored to other locations, where he expects similar results.   

The team gained unprecedented access to troves of crime records from 600 police stations in Karnataka, India. The “big data” sets included the exact date, location and type of crime reported over a six-year period. Using advanced statistical analysis methods, the researchers compared crime data to daily and seasonal weather conditions. In this way, they discovered the correlation between weather and crime at a level more accurate than previously possible. 

The researchers pointed to higher temperatures causing increased aggression as one likely factor driving this phenomenon. Further demonstrating the link between heat and higher day-to-day violent crime, the findings showed that non-violent property crimes were largely unaffected by daily weather. Fishman and team added that severe heat can cause lower agricultural yields, leading to higher unemployment rates and increased economic hardship. However, these economic motives were primarily associated with increased crime rates over time—not on a daily level. The study’s authors note that previous research in developing countries was limited. Population in these regions typically face relatively higher temperatures and are less able to shield themselves from these conditions. 

Their findings are in the December 2021 peer-reviewed issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization

New Study Presents A Gloomy Climate Future for the Middle East

But Raises Hope the Region Could Become Part of the Solution to the Climate Crisis.

A fresh study conducted by Professor Dan Rabinowitz, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences at the Tel Aviv University, surveys regional climate models for the Middle East, analyzes climate inequalities and examines threats posed by global warming to security and political stability in the region.

In a new book published by Stanford University Press entitled ‘The Power of Deserts: Climate Change, the Middle East and the Promise of a Post-Oil Era’, Professor Rabinowitz argues that the region, already hotter and dryer than most parts, could soon see exacerbated water shortages, decreased agricultural productivity, large scale displacement and conflict as a result of a deteriorating climate.

  “The tragic cases of Sudan and Syria”, says Rabinowitz, “demonstrated what could happen when shrinking agricultural outputs force millions to leave rural hinterlands and seek refuge in cities which are ill-equipped and often unwilling to absorb them”. “Global warming”, he warns, “could turn such scenarios to a new normal in the Middle East, fanning further friction between ethnic groups, damaging instability and creating conflict”.

In a chapter dedicated to climate inequality, the book demonstrates that wealthier and more technologically advanced countries in the region, which are responsible for higher per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases, have the means to adapt to the Post Normal Climate Condition and protect themselves from its perils. This while poorer neighbors, whose contributions to the climate crisis has been significantly smaller, stand to suffer most.

‘The Power of Deserts’ however offers more than somber warnings. Its latter part in fact raises the surprising, counterintuitive notion that the Middle East could eventually become part of the solution to the climate crisis. Using his deep knowledge of the region and an ability to present scientific data with clarity and poise that has made him a leading Israeli voice on climate change, Rabinowitz makes a sober yet surprisingly optimistic exploration of an opportunity arising from a looming crisis.

The past 70 years, he says, in which oil reigned supreme, helped the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf accumulate legendary wealth. But with renewable sources of energy now eclipsing fossil fuels in transport and in electricity production everywhere, the age of oil is coming to an end.  Add a disconcerting climate prognosis, and the oil rich countries in the Middle East now look at a precarious future. The need to calculate a different pathway going forward has become imperative.

Their best bet, Rabinowitz argues, could be exploiting solar energy.  With  more than 300 sunny days a year, abundant unproductive land, good capital reserves available for investment and a good track record of integrating new technologies in civil infrastructure,  the Gulf states could drastically expand their use of solar energy for their domestic electricity production; invest heavily in renewable technologies and capacities around the world; then, at the right moment, turn their backs on oil and natural gas completely and, using their market power in the energy market ante, carve themselves a leading role in the energy universe of the future.

“Rather than resisting the energy transition, which was underway even before Covid-19 and was accelerated since,” says Rabinowitz, “the Gulf States could switch to the ‘right’ side of history, join the struggle to curb climate change and gain respect in the eyes of many who once looked at them with suspicion and contempt. Significantly, this transformation on their part does not hinge on an ideological rebirth and the adoption of a ‘green’ outlook. It could transpire as a rare historical junction where self-preservation on the part of some works to the benefit of many others”. 

Dan Rabinowitz, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel-Aviv University, is Chairman of the Association for Environmental Justice in Israel. He was Head of TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Studies and Chairman of Greenpeace Mediterranean. He received the Pratt Prize for Environmental Journalism (2012) and the Green Globe award for environmental leadership (2016). 

TAU Joint Study: COVID-19 Deaths Dive on Weekends

TAU Economics Prof. Neil Gandal and his brother of CCNY find one city that defies trend: New York City

Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Neil Gandal from Berglas School of Economics, together with his brother Prof. Keith Gandal from City College of New York, examined U.S. COVID-19 deaths by day of the week. Mysteriously, the same pattern has repeated every single week of the pandemic: deaths rise from Tuesday-Friday and come down Saturday-Monday, hitting a nadir on Sunday or Monday. Controlling for time trends, deaths during weekends were at least 40 percent lower than on weekdays.

According to the researchers, the average death toll from COVID-19 in the U.S. has been 901 deaths on Saturdays, 682 on Sundays, and 699 on Mondays. The Sunday-Monday average then sharply rises on Tuesdays to 1,119. Wednesdays are the worst in terms of COVID-19, with an average of 1,130 deaths – nearly 95 percent higher than your average Sunday and almost 90 percent higher than your average Monday. Then, on Thursdays, the daily average begins to go down again with 1,128 deaths, followed by 1,033 deaths on Fridays.

This weekend effect does not occur in New York City. Without New York City, deaths during the Tuesday to Friday period in the U.S. are 50 percent higher than the Saturday to Monday period.

The same effect was found in COVID-19 mortality rates for the rest of the world – though much weaker; there is a 20 percent less chance of dying from the disease on weekends than on weekdays globally. Historical research shows that such a weekend effect exists for overall deaths, but it is weaker than with COVID-19. In the case of England, for example, researchers found that for every 100 deaths among patients in a hospital on Wednesday, there are 92 deaths among similar patients in the hospital on a Sunday. 

“The robustness analyses we did, and the fact that the weekend effect does not exist in NYC, suggest that our results are not likely due just to reporting issues,” says Prof. Neil Gandal. “It seems to us probable that something social or cultural is going on with overall U.S. COVID-19 deaths, corresponding to differing behaviors and attitudes tied to different parts of the week. Perhaps people tend to relax more on the weekends, even in hospitals or long-term care facilities. Meanwhile, in NYC, my brother Keith tells me, the familiar rhythms of the American week were simply wiped away between mid-March and the end of May. During that period, every day seemed the same, as in the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’ Except it was Coronavirus Day. Each day, you woke up to disbelief, dread, even horror, and soon enough, you heard the wail of ambulances. All day long, no one was on the streets. Even Times Square was empty. The sirens didn’t stop at night. Could worrying, watching the frightening news coverage of the pandemic, and ultimately panicking about COVID-19, be increasing the death toll? We leave this for future research.”

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