A photo of a Covid-19 fence sign.

Voters in both parties favor caution as cities begin to reopen

A photo of a Covid-19 fence sign.

“Our research has revealed a nation largely in agreement on everything from preventive measures to thoughts about returning to normal activities,” said UCLA political science professor Lynn Vavreck. (Photo Credit: Sean Brenner)

Over the weekend of May 9–10, many states, including California, began to ease safer-at-home restrictions, allowing some businesses to reopen under strict conditions, and opening some public spaces, including hiking trails and beaches.

Now, a weekly survey co-led by UCLA political science professors Lynn Vavreck and Chris Tausanovitch has found that Democratic and Republican voters favor the restrictions that were enacted to slow the spread of COVID-19. And by and large, people prefer a cautious approach to getting life back to normal.

The UCLA + Democracy Fund Nationscape survey began adding COVID-19–related questions in March, shortly after businesses, schools and events began shutting down. Topics include Americans’ beliefs, worries and behaviors related to the pandemic. The survey will post results each week on a new coronavirus-specific page of its website.

“Our research has revealed a nation largely in agreement on everything from preventive measures to thoughts about returning to normal activities,” Vavreck said. “Far from the partisan division that has described the last several years, nearly everyone has incorporated precautions against the virus into their daily lives and most people support government interventions to stop its spread.”

The study was quickly noticed by government leaders. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland referenced the findings during remarks on the Senate floor on May 13.

A graphic of the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Survey.

A majority of voters surveyed agree with measures local and state governments have implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Faded dots represent results from previous weeks. Data collected March 19 through April 29, 2020.) (Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Survey)

Researchers also surveyed respondents about the economic pain caused by COVID-19. Of respondents who earn less than $25,000 per year, 26% reported that their income has been reduced significantly due to the crisis, and 24% have lost their primary source of income entirely. Among those earning more than $85,000 annually, 23% reported significant income loss but just 8% indicated that they had lost their income entirely.

► Read more about UCLA + Democracy Fund Nationscape

Vavreck is an expert on presidential elections; her previous research has shown that a good economy is often critical to a president’s reelection chances.

“As we head into the presidential election, we will continue to chart how the government’s response to the pandemic will affect the way voters view an incumbent president presiding over an unexpected downturn in the American economy,” Vavreck said.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of UCLA professor Renee Tajima-Peña.

PBS series on Asian Americans features work of UCLA filmmakers and scholars

A photo of UCLA professor Renee Tajima-Peña.

UCLA professor Renee Tajima-Peña, series producer of “Asian Americans.” (Photo Credit: Claudio Rocha)

n 1982, a young Chinese American man named Vincent Chin was beaten to death as he was out celebrating his bachelor party in Highland Park, Michigan, near Detroit. America was fraught and tense, in the middle of a recession that had hit automakers particularly hard, given the rise of economically desirable Japanese cars. Racial animosity toward Asian Americans was running high.

Chin’s death and the relatively lenient sentence laid upon his two white attackers — one a recently laid-off autoworker in the city — were a shock to Asian American communities and sparked a wave of civil rights activism.

“There were lot of people at the time who thought, ‘I’m OK, I’ve made it, everything is OK,’ and then they were really awakened by the case,” said Renee Tajima-Peña, a UCLA professor and director of the Center for EthnoCommunications in the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.

Chin’s story is just one of many told in “Asian Americans” a five-part series that airs on PBS over two nights, May 11 and 12. It’s a story that Tajima-Peña knows well. She co-directed an Academy Award–nominated documentary about Chin’s murder.

A photo of Vincent Chin, who was murdered in Michigan in 1982.

Vincent Chin, who was murdered in Michigan in 1982. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Tajima-Peña also served as series producer for “Asian Americans.” And, while she has been working on the project for nearly two years, the timing of its release feels particularly potent, and unfortunately familiar, given the hate speech and even physical attacks that have been levied at people who might look Chinese in the wake of the crippling economic and health crises brought about by the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve seen all of this before, but the question is, what’s our takeaway from this history?” she said. “To me, the takeaway is for people to find a way to support each other. The series is really future-oriented, even though it’s about history. The U.S has become more diverse yet more divided. When that happens, you’ve got to figure things out because we can’t move forward divided in this country.”

It’s also a personal history for Tajima-Peña, whose ancestors came to the United States from Japan in the early 1900s, a time when national law prevented the immigration of certain Asian groups. “My family arrived during the exclusion, they were on skid row during the Depression, they were incarcerated during World War II,” she said.

Her family’s story dovetails with the stories of subsequent generations of Asian Americans who came to the U.S. as immigrants and as refugees from the Korean and Vietnam wars. “People found a way to thrive,” she said. “And Asian Americans have been a part of moving this democracy forward throughout its history.”

Showcasing this reality is one of the overarching goals of the series. The episodes include a wealth of interviews with artists, activists and scholars.

It also quickly became a very UCLA-centric project. Grace Lee, an alumna of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, directed two of the episodes. Several other alumni served as crew on multiple episodes. And David Yoo, a professor of Asian American studies and history and vice provost of the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, served as lead scholar on the project.

“As an epicenter of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and arguably the most diverse city in the world, the greater Los Angeles area is a generative space,” Yoo said. “This is not new for AAPIs and other communities, and many legacies are reflected in the series, including the remarkable contributions of UCLA Asian American studies, in terms of our students, alumni, staff, faculty and programs like EthnoCommunications, which has produced so many talented filmmakers.”

Solidarity is a running theme within the series. The Asian American community is itself the most diverse of any racial group and has faced internal racial conflicts, Tajima-Peña pointed out. But, she said, civil rights leaders past and present recognize that the struggle must always include other marginalized groups within the prevailing racial tensions of America.

“Asian American history is a history of solidarity,” she said. “People may see us as the model minority, but Asian Americans have been fighting from the very beginning. The biggest labor strike in the 1860s was by Chinese railroad workers.”

Tajima-Peña was delighted to find footage of Hawaiian-born Patsy Mink, the first female U.S. congressperson of color, speaking to the Democratic National Convention in the 1960s. Mink urged delegates to stay firm on a civil rights platform.

“What we wanted to lead to in the series is really the question of today, when we are a larger population with a greater presence in society — to quote from Richard Pryor, does justice mean ’just us?’” Tajima-Peña said. “That’s what we need to focus on, because people really want to get to work.”

Yoo said he hopes viewers will be inspired by the stories of civil rights efforts from the 1960s and 1970s. “The activism, struggle and creativity of that era set into motion remarkable efforts for social justice that provide a foundation which we can draw upon to engage the concerns of today,” he said.

The series is organized around personal stories, ones that will hopefully engender empathy and connection.

“These stories we are telling are personal stories around tipping points in history, and at these points, Asian Americans have found a way to work amongst themselves or work across ethnicities,” Tajima-Peña said. “You don’t have to be Asian yourself to see yourself in these stories.”

A photo of Wong Kim Ark, whose U.S. Supreme Court case led to a change in citizenship laws.

Wong Kim Ark, whose U.S. Supreme Court case led to a change in citizenship laws. (Photo: Public domain)

When Tajima-Peña thinks of hope, she thinks of young Asian Americans, some of whom might be experiencing the effects of racism for the first time. She thinks of their potential. She thinks of the stories of other young Asian Americans that came before and brought hope with them.

The series is bookended by two of their stories.

Wong Kim Ark was the son of Chinese railroad workers. He was born in San Francisco, where his parents legally resided at the time of his birth. In 1880, after a trip to China, he was denied entry back into the country on the grounds that he was not a citizen. Just 21 years old, he chose to fight — and took his struggle all the way to the Supreme Court. The landmark 1898 ruling in his favor established birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to parents who were not citizens.

“Asian Americans” also tells the story of Tereza Lee, who migrated from South Korea with her parents. Known as the first “Dreamer,” in the late 1990s, she fought for herself and other undocumented children through the DREAM Act, which ultimately failed to pass Congress after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed political thinking around immigration.

“She kept on fighting and joined a movement of other undocumented young people,” Tajima-Peña said. “And my own parents are citizens because of Wong Kim Ark. The inspiration of those two ends of the Asian American story is what will take us into the future.”

 

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Shelley Taylor, distinguished research professor or psychology in the UCLA College.

Psychology professor honored for pioneering work on ‘social cognition’

A photo of Shelley Taylor, distinguished research professor or psychology in the UCLA College.

Shelley Taylor was recently honored as one of the most influential social psychologists working today. (Photo Courtesy of Shelley Taylor)

Shelley Taylor, distinguished research professor of psychology in the UCLA College and the founding scholar in the areas of social cognition, health psychology and social neuroscience, has been awarded the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Social Sciences.

The BBVA Foundation praised Taylor, who has been on faculty at UCLA since 1979, as a pioneer of social cognition who revealed the role of cognitive bias in social relations. Social cognition is the process of people making sense of the social world — how people think about themselves, other people, social groups, human history and the future. This social knowledge begins to develop in infancy, and guides human beliefs about others, and social behavior.

“It is a great honor to receive this award,” said Taylor, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, who is an expert on how people cope with adversity. “In the last decades, social cognition has gone from being an interesting idea to being a guiding force in scientific inquiry concerning how people think about themselves and the social world. I am especially grateful to my colleague, Susan Fiske for her important collaborative role in the development and subsequent prominence of this field.”

The foundation’s award citation praised Taylor as one of the most influential social psychologists working today whose “amazing insights” and “outstanding contributions” have elucidated the role of cognitive shortcuts in shaping social interactions.

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, established in 2008, recognize and reward contributions of exceptional impact in science, technology, social sciences and the humanities. The BBVA Foundation, part of financial group BBVA, partners with the Spanish National Research Council, Spain’s premier public research organization. The foundation promotes world-class scientific research and recognizes significant contributions in scientific research with Frontiers of Knowledge Awards that include a cash prize of 400,000 euros.

Taylor and Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton, with whom she has been collaborating since 1972, published in 1984 “Social Cognition,” a landmark book; its fourth edition, in 2012, is titled, “Social Cognition: From Brains to Culture.” The authors proposed a model in which people process information on their social environment (people, groups, social situations) at two distinct speeds: a slow, careful speed, based on a systematic analysis of all available data, and a faster, relatively superficial one drawing on “cognitive shortcuts,” biases and strategies that simplify complex problems.

Instead of reaching conclusions in a rational manner, people often rely on shortcuts, including stereotypes. Taylor and Fiske defined several types of social thinkers, including what they called the “cognitive miser,” who exhibits a kind of bias favoring information that confirms one’s own beliefs, reducing the mental effort involved in processing. The cognitive miser simultaneously draws on and reinforces existing stereotypes, such as race, gender, age and immigrant status. Their model, the committee wrote, “details the conditions under which more elaborative cognitive processes are used as a basis for decision.”

Taylor is also among the founders of health psychology, renowned for her contributions on how stress affects health, and how social factors are able to buffer this effect.

Her research in health psychology led her to the discovery of “positive illusions,” with which people tend to perceive things in an optimistic light, believing they are better than they are. Taylor showed that this bias contributes to the improvement of health, and that these illusions are very adaptive. Taylor is a leader in research into how stress affects health, and how social factors can serve as a buffer in this respect.

What happens when your social support becomes dangerous?

In a new article published by the BBVA Foundation, Taylor and Fiske analyze the impact the COVID-19 pandemic may have on social life. Other people, they note, are the source of our greatest danger and our greatest support. How do we decide who is safe and trustworthy? They explain how social cognition allows us to make these determinations.

Under normal circumstances, social support is one of the most effective resources a person has for dealing with threat.

“One of the particularly disturbing aspects of the coronavirus epidemic is that it undermines and can even eliminate this vital resource,” the article said. “The infection is, of course, socially transmitted, so an infected person likely got it from a social contact and may subsequently inadvertently pass it on to others. How devastating it is to know that one’s social support may be eliminated by the very stressor one is trying to combat, manage, or avoid.”

The article states that there could be other consequences, as well, such as the impulse to form new friendships may be muted and people could come to view the world with more suspicion and concern.

“And yet, there is also the likelihood that we will emerge from these trying times with renewed appreciation for our social ties and the physical and emotional benefits they provide. Never is it more clear than in a crisis that no one solves such severe problems alone. We must depend on one another for warmth, kindness, and help and by providing and receiving the support that is the essence of our humanity.”

Taylor also developed an alternative to the prevailing fight-or-flight theory of how people respond to stress, which is the idea that people respond either aggressively to stressful events or flee from them. Her alternative, “tend-and-befriend” model states that people, especially women, seek positive, nurturing social relationships.

Eight of Taylor’s research articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals have each been cited more than 1,000 times. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health since 1974.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of students in a course on the U.S. Census taught by Professor Natalie Masuoka. From left: Milagros Martinez Stordeur, Kaumron Eidgahy, Iris Hinh and Amy Bugwadia.

For census season, these UCLA students want to make sure everyone counts

A photo of students in a course on the U.S. Census taught by Professor Natalie Masuoka. From left: Milagros Martinez Stordeur, Kaumron Eidgahy, Iris Hinh and Amy Bugwadia.

Students in a course on the U.S. Census taught by Professor Natalie Masuoka. From left: Milagros Martinez Stordeur, Kaumron Eidgahy, Iris Hinh and Amy Bugwadia. (Photo Credit: Agustina Martinez Stordeur)

Two civic-minded UCLA undergraduate students have turned one of their courses into a platform for encouraging others to participate in the U.S. Census.

Amy Bugwadia and Kaumron Eidgahy were inspired to action by a UCLA course on the census taught by UCLA political science professor Natalie Masuoka. The course, which ended in March, required students to undertake a community engagement project related to the census.

Bugwadia and Eidgahy both came away with a new appreciation for the need to boost participation in Los Angeles County, which historically has been undercounted in the survey. Both have served as UCLA resident assistants, and one of their efforts has centered on communicating the importance of the census to students who have relocated because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the campus’s recent shift to remote learning.

The California Complete Count committee, a state entity helping to conduct the census, has encouraged students who had planned to be living in UCLA residence halls as of April 1 to count themselves as campus residents.

“Whether or not students are able to actually be on campus right now, UCLA has been our home for years, and making sure we get counted will benefit [students] who will be here 10 years from now,” Bugwadia said.

Bugwadia and Eidgahy are both second-generation immigrants, and both have adopted roles as trusted messengers of political and cultural information for their extended families.

“I am extremely passionate about making sure people of color are counted,” Eidgahy said. “I have this tradition with my mom. Every time there is an election, we sit down and spend a couple of hours going through the ballot. I saw this very clear parallel with the census, even though I’d never had that experience before.”

For Masuoka’s course, Bugwadia and Eidgahy decided their work in the community would focus on inspiring high schoolers in two of Los Angeles County’s vulnerable neighborhoods to become trusted messengers for their families and communities. So the UCLA students developed a curriculum and presented it with their class team at two San Fernando Valley high schools, El Camino Real Charter and Canoga Park, shortly before the county’s safer at home protocols went into effect.

While it has historically been difficult to produce accurate census counts for Los Angeles County, Masuoka said the coronavirus pandemic is likely making it even more challenging in 2020.

“We live in one of the most hard-to-count counties in the country, thanks to a confluence of factors,” she said. “It is a populous county and is geographically spread out, which means counting is exacerbated by the multiple socioeconomic and racial groups within it. And there’s every indication that it will be even harder this year.”

Dispelling myths and fears is a big job for families’ “trusted messengers,” especially in immigrant communities, said Bugwadia, a fourth-year student majoring in political science and minoring in disability studies.

“Being a trusted messenger particularly important in the current political climate,” she said. “It can be frustrating and maybe even terrifying for a lot of folks who come from underrepresented communities, but those are the communities who really do benefit from the census.”

Bugwadia said the campaign was aimed not only at students, but also at teachers. “They, too, are trusted messengers. That was our experience growing up in the school system.”

Eidgahy is a third-year student majoring in political science and communication. His family emigrated from Iran, and he has spent time recently quelling their fears about the census by explaining the provisions for how census information is used — including that only non-personally identifiable data is released to government institutions or outside organizations. And he explained the Title 13 confidentiality protections that were put into place after census information was used to incarcerate Japanese Americans during World War II.

Bugwadia and Eidgahy have continued to make virtual connections with campus and local community groups as part of a spring quarter independent study project under Masuoka’s tutelage. Both students are aspiring social scientists, and they recognize the importance of accurate census data for people working at research institutions like UCLA.

Other students in Masuoka’s course focused on efforts to reach different populations, including people with disabilities and individuals experiencing homelessness. The students made videos, stickers and graphics to promote participation in the census, and they collected a total of nearly 2,000 pledge cards from community members who promised to complete the questionnaire.

Those cards were meant to be displayed in Kerckhoff Hall during spring quarter as a way to inspire more people to complete the census questionnaire. Fortunately, Masuoka’s syllabus for the class had already included a plan to create a website that would house information and images from the students’ projects and continue their pledge effort.

The course materials and website were funded through an instructional improvement program grant from the UCLA Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

Masuoka said it was important to her to create a politically engaged learning environment that lent itself to a range of political viewpoints.

“The census is nonpartisan; it’s something everyone can and should care about regardless of their position on politics or government policies,” she said. “The class went even better than I could have imagined. I’m new to UCLA and this was a great example of the kind of talented students we have here.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Assistant Professor Wesley Campbell, UCLA Physics & Astronomy

UCLA physicists develop world’s best quantum bits

A photo of Assistant Professor Wesley Campbell, UCLA Physics & Astronomy

Assistant Professor Wesley Campbell, UCLA Physics & Astronomy (Photo Credit: UCLA)

A team of researchers at UCLA has set a new record for preparing and measuring the quantum bits, or qubits, inside of a quantum computer without error. The techniques they have developed make it easier to build quantum computers that outperform classical computers for important tasks, including the design of new materials and pharmaceuticals. The research is published in the peer-reviewed, online open-access journal, npj Quantum Information, published by Nature and including the exceptional research on quantum information and quantum computing.

Currently, the most powerful quantum computers are “noisy intermediate-scale quantum” (NISQ) devices and are very sensitive to errors. Error in preparation and measurement of qubits is particularly onerous: for 100 qubits, a 1% measurement error means a NISQ device will produce an incorrect answer about 63% of the time, said senior author Eric Hudson, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy.

To address this major challenge, Hudson and UCLA colleagues recently developed a new qubit hosted in a laser-cooled, radioactive barium ion. This “goldilocks ion” has nearly ideal properties for realizing ultra-low error rate quantum devices, allowing the UCLA group to achieve a preparation and measurement error rate of about 0.03%, lower than any other quantum technology to date, said co-senior author Wesley Campbell, also a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy.

The development of this exciting new qubit at UCLA should impact almost every area of quantum information science, Hudson said. This radioactive ion has been identified as a promising system in quantum networking, sensing, timing, simulation and computation, and the researchers’ paper paves the way for large-scale NISQ devices.

Co-authors are lead author Justin Christensen, a postdoctoral scholar in Hudson’s laboratory, and David Hucul, a former postdoctoral scholar in Hudson and Campbell’s laboratories, who is now a physicist at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

The research is funded by the U.S. Army Research Office.

Campbell and Hudson are primary investigators of a major $2.7 million U.S. Department of Energy Quantum Information Science Research project to lay the foundation for the next generation of computing and information processing, as well as many other innovative technologies.

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Physical Sciences website.