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A graphic of the predictive model.

UCLA model ID’s areas that should have priority for vaccine, other COVID-19 help

The predictive model can guide public health officials and leaders across the nation in harnessing local data that can help prevent infections and save lives, the UCLA researchers say. (Photo Credit: UCLA CNK-BRITE)

To help slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, UCLA public health and urban planning experts have developed a predictive model that pinpoints which populations in which neighborhoods of Los Angeles County are most at risk of becoming infected.

The researchers hope the new model, which can be applied to other counties and jurisdictions as well, will assist decision makers, public health officials and scientists in effectively and equitably implementing vaccine distribution, testing, closures and reopenings, and other virus-mitigation measures.

The model maps Los Angeles County neighborhood by neighborhood, based on four important indicators known to significantly increase a person’s medical vulnerability to COVID-19 infection — preexisting medical conditions, barriers to accessing health care, built-environment characteristics and socioeconomic challenges.

The research data demonstrate that neighborhoods characterized by significant clustering of racial and ethnic minorities, low-income households and unmet medical needs are most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, specifically areas in and around South Los Angeles and the eastern portion of the San Fernando Valley. Communities along the coast and in the northwestern part of the county, which are disproportionately white and higher-income, were found to be the least vulnerable.

“The model we have includes specific resource vulnerabilities that can guide public health officials and local leaders across the nation to harness already available local data to determine which groups in which neighborhoods are most vulnerable and how to prevent new infections to save lives,” said research author Vickie Mays, a professor of psychology in the UCLA College and of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Mays, who also directs the National Institutes of Health–funded UCLA BRITE Center for Science, Research and Policy, worked with urban planner Paul Ong, director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, to develop the indicators model, along with study co-authors Chhandara Pech and Nataly Rios Gutierrez. The maps were created by Abigail Fitzgibbon.

Utilizing data from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research’s California Health Interview Survey, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the researchers were able to determine how the four vulnerability indicators differentially predicted which racial and ethnic groups in Los Angeles County were the most vulnerable to infection based on their geographical residence.

Racial and ethnic groups with the highest vulnerability

Preexisting conditions. The authors found that 73% of Black residents live in neighborhoods with the highest rates of preexisting health conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease, as well as poor overall health and food insecurity. This was followed by 70% of Latinos and 60% of Cambodians, Hmongs and Laotians, or CHL. Conversely, 60% of white residents live in areas with low or the lowest vulnerability.

Barriers to accessing services. Forty percent of Latinos, 29% of Blacks, 22% of CHL and 16% of “other Asians” reside in neighborhoods with the greatest barriers to health care, characterized by high proportions of non–U.S. citizens, poor English-language ability, a lack of access to computer broadband service, lower rates of health insurance and poor access to vehicles for medical purposes. Only 7% of whites live in these neighborhoods.

Built-environment risk. Sixty-three percent of CHL, 55% of Latinos, 53% of Blacks and 32% of whites live areas considered to be at high or the highest vulnerability due to built-environment challenges, which include high population density, crowded housing and a lack of parks and open spaces.

Social vulnerability. According to the Centers for Disease Control, neighborhoods with high social vulnerability are characterized by lower socioeconomic status and education attainment, a higher prevalence of single-parent and multigenerational households, greater housing density, poorer English-language ability and a lack of access to vehicles, among other factors. While only 8% of whites live in these neighborhoods, 42% of both Blacks and Latinos do, as do 38% of CHL.

How the model can help with COVID-19–mitigation efforts

“When the pandemic hit, we were slowed down by a lack of science and a lack of understanding of the ways in which health disparities in the lives of some of our most vulnerable populations made their risk of COVID-19 infection even greater,” Mays said. “We thought elderly and people in nursing homes were the most vulnerable, yet we found that lacking a number of social resources contributes to a greater likelihood of getting infected as well.”

► Read an interview with Mays on the how COVID-19 is affecting Black Americans and how better data can help prevent its spread.

And while nationwide statistics have shown that the virus has had a disproportionate effect on low-income communities and communities of color, knowing precisely which populations are the most vulnerable and where new infections are likely to occur is critical information in determining how to allocate scarce resources and when to open or close areas, Mays and Ong said.

If, for example, English-language ability is a barrier to accessing health information and services in a vulnerable neighborhood, health officials should develop campaigns in Spanish or another appropriate language highlighting the availability of testing, the researchers stress. If access to a car is a barrier for families in an at-risk area, walk-up testing sites should be made available. When crowded housing in a high-risk neighborhood is the predominant housing stock, testing resources should be set up for entire households and hotel vouchers made available to help with quarantining after a positive test.

The data can also provide critical knowledge and insights to social service providers, emergency agencies and volunteers on where to direct their time and resources, such as where to set up distribution sites for food and other necessities. And importantly, identifying the areas and populations with the highest vulnerability will help decision-makers equitably prioritize vaccine-distribution plans to include the most vulnerable early.

In the longer term, the researchers say, the model will also provide valuable information to urban planners so that they can target specific areas for the development of less-dense housing and more parks and open spaces, creating healthier neighborhoods that can better withstand future pandemics while promoting equity in long-term health outcomes.

This article, written by Elizabeth Kivowitz Boatright-Simon, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of a street sign named "Kindness."

UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute sees ‘contagious kindness’ in action

A photo of a street sign named "Kindness."

“We laid out a framework for understanding why witnessing kindness motivates being kind,” said UCLA’s Daniel Fessler. (Photo Credit: iStock.com/solitude72)

Today is World Kindness Day, and despite the current state of political tension, kindness is pretty easy to perpetuate, a UCLA study reveals.

“Each of us is kind to someone, and therefore have the potential to be kind to everyone, even those with whom we differ politically,” said Daniel Fessler, director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, housed in the UCLA College division of social sciences.

The first study from the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, which has been shared on the peer-reviewed open access scientific journal PLOS ONE, is about kindness and how it spreads — and the bottom line is that kindness really is contagious.

Witnessing an act of kindness, even between strangers, can make us feel better about our world, and make us more inclined to perform an act of kindness ourselves. Social scientists call this state “elevation,” an uplifting emotion often accompanied by a warm feeling in the chest, goosebumps, and sometimes even tears.

These aren’t assumptions or nice generalizations — researchers at the institute have proven the effects of acts of kindness in their initial study, first shared with peers in December 2019.

In the study, Kindness Institute researchers set out to test the theory and uncover evidence of how and why the feeling state of elevation causes contagious kindness — or what researchers call “prosocial contagion” (where witnessing an act of kindness makes one predisposed to also act in a similar way).

The project produced a sophisticated model of the biological logic underlying this emotion system. It also required developing new measurement tools to test predictions about how people might act and whether prosocial contagion occurred.

A snapshot of the findings is telling:

– In-person experiments showed people an uplifting video and allowed them to choose to donate money to a children’s hospital. Many people did just that.

– Online experiments used the same video and asked respondents if they would be inclined to match charitable donations if it was offered by their employer. Most said yes.

Testing contagious kindness
In the study’s experiments, participants were asked to watch an uplifting viral video called “Unsung Hero,” which follows a young man as he goes through his daily routine, stopping often to help others. As he goes along, people in his life who witness his behavior start to react positively and show appreciation.

“We laid out a framework for understanding why witnessing kindness motivates being kind, and why some people are more strongly influenced by such observations than others,” said Fessler, who also is a professor of anthropology at UCLA.

The project included 8,000 people who participated in 15 experiments — 11 conducted online and four in person via on-the-street interviews in Los Angeles. Half of the participants watched the “Unsung Hero” video. The others watched a control video of a man performing impressive parkour stunts in a show of athleticism.

Those who participated in person received five $1 bills as payment for their time. At the end of the interaction they were given the opportunity to make an anonymous donation to UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital via a padded envelope handed to them by the researcher, who turned away while respondents chose how much money, if any, to put inside before sealing it.

Online responders were instead given a hypothetical scenario: If your employer were to match donations to a worthy cause, would you be inclined to give?

In-person participants who viewed the “Unsung Hero” video gave 25% more to the charity than those who watched the athletic-stunt video. Online respondents who viewed the video showing kindness in action were significantly more likely to hypothetically commit to charitable giving than those who viewed the alternate athletic video (67% versus 47%).

“Both the online and in-person methods produced very similar results, which replicate previous studies indicating that witnessing exceptional prosocial behavior — or exceptional kindness — elicits the emotion of elevation, which in turn motivates further prosocial behavior by the witness,” said Adam Sparks, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar who led the study in collaboration with Fessler and Colin Holbrook, an assistant professor of cognitive and information sciences at UC Merced.

Testing kindness inclinations
These study experiments also supported the researchers’ new theory about why some people experience elevation more strongly than others.

“We all have assumptions and expectations about how other people are likely to behave, and these assumptions guide our emotional responses,” Sparks said. “Some of us tend toward an idealistic attitude — that is, we assume other people generally behave kindly and do not try to exploit one another. Others of us have a more cynical attitude — that is, we assume other people generally behave less cooperatively and more selfishly.”

Before participants watched either video, they answered questions that measured where their attitude fell on this idealism-cynicism spectrum. Participants who were more idealistic reported that the video caused stronger feelings of elevation than did more cynical participants, in line with the researchers’ theory.

“Very little previous research on elevation has investigated why some people experience this emotion more than others,” Sparks said. “Our theory and evidence suggest that the expectation that other people can be kind is almost a prerequisite for experiencing elevation.”

Fessler is hopeful that research such as that being undertaken at the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute will help us understand how we can move forward together, even after a divisive election.

Debate and discussion from a position of kindness are how new approaches develop and solutions arise, he added.

“Ultimately we can all see in one another our shared humanity,” Fessler said.

This article, written by Jessica Wolf and Melissa Abraham, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Center for Community Engagement Debuts New Name, new Website, and Campus Database for Community Partnerships

Jessa Calderon (Tongva and Chumash) Photo credit: Kote Melendez

The UCLA Center for Community Learning has a new name.

As of November 10, the Center will be known as the UCLA Center for Community Engagement, reflecting the Center’s continued goal to connect UCLA students with community partners to provide both a learning experience for students and a benefit to the communities, locally and globally.

The Center for Community Engagement promotes and supports community-engaged research, teaching and learning in partnership with communities and organizations throughout Los Angeles, regionally, nationally and globally. The Center facilitates faculty and student work that integrates sustained, reciprocal engagement with the public and helps transform UCLA’s mission to support the cocreation, codissemination, copreservation and coapplication of knowledge.

A photo of Gaye Theresa Johnson, meeting with cilantro workers.

A recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Scholars, Gaye Theresa Johnson, meeting with cilantro workers as part of her ongoing community-engaged research on food justice. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

The Center is tasked by the Undergraduate Council to administer the university’s “community-engaged course” framework. It does this by supporting faculty across the university who are interested in developing such community-engaged courses, and ultimately approving the “XP” course suffix that identifies these courses.

The Center also coordinates the Chancellor’s Awards for Community-Engaged Scholars, a program that recognizes outstanding scholarship and supports faculty to develop new courses to integrate undergraduates into their ongoing community-engaged research. The Center’s student-facing programming includes 195CE internship courses, the community engagement and social change minor, the Astin Community Scholars research program, the Changemaker Scholars program, and AmeriCorps volunteer programs.

The name change was inspired by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Emily A. Carter at a meeting last year with the vice chancellors and Chancellor Gene Block. Center for Community Learning director Shalom Staub and Vice Provost for International Studies and Global Engagement Cindy Fan gave a presentation about UCLA’s new strategic priorities for local and global engagement.

Staub said Carter took note of the reciprocal nature of the Center’s community-engaged programs. She noticed that the Center’s name only notes the value for student learning but ignores the ways that the work is intentionally designed to create value for community partners. The name “Center for Community Learning” didn’t convey both sides, she said.

“This name change highlights the importance of meaningful engagement as the cornerstone of effective community-based research and education,” Carter said. “It is a stronger reflection of the center’s philosophy and work, and it emphasizes the idea that our relationships with communities and organizations throughout Los Angeles are true reciprocal partnerships.”

Dean of Undergraduate Education Adriana Galvan said the new name represents the meaningful learning and authentic community-engaged experiences students have with community partners as well as UCLA’s commitment to creativity, community engagement, research, and learning across disciplines.

“Community engagement is a crucial ingredient to the undergraduate experience because it brings to life the learning that happens in a classroom and ensures that our students have the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which the university connects to the broader community,” she said.

In addition to the name change, the Center launched a new website and will soon debut a new online database of community engaged work at UCLA. Through an online platform called Collaboratory, community-centered research or teaching at UCLA will be logged, categorized and searchable, allowing users to see how community-engaged work at UCLA is connected across campus and across community partner organizations.

“Rather than talk abstractly about community-engaged work, or rather than describe just the work of a specific course, this is going to allow us to aggregate and to visualize community-engaged work at UCLA,” Staub said. “The scale and scope of this work is going to start to become much more real.”

This article was written by Robin Migdol. 

 

 

Why is progress so slow for Latinos in Hollywood?

After “One Day at a Time” was canceled by Netflix in 2019, fans launched a campaign to save the show, which follows a Cuban-American family. The program was later picked up by ViacomCBS and carried on Pop TV and TVLand. (Photo Credit: Costco)

Although minorities overall are becoming better represented in the entertainment industry, that progress largely hasn’t touched Latino actors, writers, directors and executives.

An open letter from 270 Latino TV and film writers and creators, published Oct. 15 in the Los Angeles Times, laid bare the growing frustration with that phenomenon. And the statistics in the 2020 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report back it up.

Despite making up nearly 17% of the U.S. populace, Latinos are underrepresented in nearly every critical job category tracked by the report, the latest of which was published today.

Chon Noriega, director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, said decades of attempts at media reform and market-based arguments haven’t yielded significant gains for Latinos in film and TV.

“The approach to media reform over the last 50-some years has always been either the carrot or the stick,” said Noriega, a media scholar who teaches in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “Initially, it was the stick — the laws and regulations around equal employment opportunity. And because Latinos go to more movies than any group and watch more TV than any group, the carrot was, ‘Here are things you can do and these things will enhance your ability to make money.’”

Advocates and activists haven’t yet come up with a method or message that has led to tangible improvements, he said.

For minorities overall, the most progress has come in acting roles, but the numbers remain stubbornly stagnant for Latino actors.

► Related: Read more about the Hollywood Diversity Report’s analysis of jobs in TV

According to the latest Hollywood Diversity Report, Latinos’ share of lead acting roles was 6.6% on scripted broadcast shows, 5.5% in cable and 4.0% in digital in 2018–19. Among all TV acting roles in the past two years, Latinos’ best representation was in broadcast shows during the 2017–18 season, but even then, they made up just 6.4% of casts.

That’s scant progress since the 2012–13 television season, when Latino actors claimed 4.0% of acting roles in broadcast shows, 3.0% on cable and 12.0% on digital.

And all minority groups, including Latinos, are underrepresented in TV writing, directing and show creator jobs, according to the recent report.

Noriega said the rationale for improving Latinos’ representation on TV is tied to media’s critical role in fostering understanding across racial and ethnic groups.

“If you’re in California, how do you know anything about the Midwest or the South?” he asked. “How do you know that the people there are kind of like you in certain ways? You can travel there, and spend time and learn firsthand. Or you can watch movies, the nightly news, sitcoms and documentaries. You can look at things that come into your home that represent other parts of the world beyond where you live.”

For example, he said, Puerto Ricans are rarely depicted in film and on TV — which likely contributes to many Americans’ lack of understanding that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory or that its residents are U.S. citizens who nevertheless lack the full rights of citizenship.

Today’s analysis of the television industry is the second installment of the 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report; part one, focusing on movies, was published in February.

That report found that Latinos held 4.6% of movie acting roles in 2019. Of the 145 top-grossing films in 2019, Latinos had writing credits on just 2.8% and directing credits on only 2.7%. Although both figures were higher than they were for the top-grossing films of 2018, the percentages are still far short of Latinos’ overall share of the population.

Noriega said the lack of representation in some cases — and the way in which minorities are portrayed on screen in others — is especially concerning because of how media shapes people’s impressions.

“There are more portrayals of African-Americans as a percentage than in society,” he said. “But it has been largely negative representation. It’s largely about crime, both in the news and in entertainment.

“And you will rarely see Latinos in the media; you’ll rarely read about them in newspaper. They don’t exist. That makes it a lot easier for a government to decide that they are going to put small children from that group in cages.”

This article, written by Jessica Wolf, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

Birthrates, marriage, gender roles will change dramatically in post-pandemic world, scientists predict

Marriage rates will plummet and people will put off having children in a virus-plagued world, potentially leading to a drop in nations’ populations, UCLA professor Martie Haselton and colleagues say. (Photo Credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com)

COVID-19 and America’s response to it are likely to profoundly affect our families, work lives, relationships and gender roles for years, say 12 prominent scientists and authors who analyzed 90 research studies and used their expertise to evaluate our reaction to the pandemic and predict its aftermath.

The group, which included three UCLA researchers, foresees enduring psychological fallout from the crisis, even among those who haven’t been infected. Their predictions and insights, published Oct. 22 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, include:

– Planned pregnancies will decrease in a disease-ridden world, birthrates will drop, and many couples will postpone marriage, said senior author and UCLA professor of psychology and communication studies Martie Haselton.

– People who are single are less likely to start new relationships. Women who can afford to be on their own are likely to stay single longer, Haselton said.

– With children home due to the pandemic, women are spending more time providing care and schooling, are less available for paying work and may come to rely more on male partners as breadwinners, Haselton said. This will push us toward socially conservative gender norms and potentially result in a backslide in gender equality.

– Unlike many past crises, this pandemic is not bringing people closer together and, despite some exceptions, it is not producing an increase in kindness, empathy or compassion, especially in the U.S., said lead author Benjamin Seitz, a UCLA psychology doctoral student with expertise in behavioral neuroscience.

– “Our species is not wired for seeking a precise understanding of the world as it actually is,” the authors write, and our tribal predispositions toward groupthink are resulting in the large-scale spread of misinformation We tend to seek out data that supports our opinions, and we too often distrust health experts, they say.

“The psychological, social and societal consequences of COVID-19 will be very long-lasting,” Haselton said. “The longer COVID-19 continues, the more entrenched these changes are likely to be.”

COVID-19: A worldwide social experiment

As marriage rates plummet and people postpone reproduction in a virus-plagued world, some nations’ populations will shrink and fall precipitously below “replacement level,” the authors write. These birthrate drops, in turn, can have cascading social and economic consequences, affecting job opportunities, straining the ability of countries to provide a safety net for their aging populations and potentially leading to global economic contraction.

Research has shown that even before the pandemic, women were more stressed than men by family and job responsibilities. Now they are managing more household responsibilities related to child care and education. In medicine and other sciences, women scholars are already publishing substantially less research than they did a year ago, while men are showing increased productivity, Haselton said.

She and her co-authors foresee a shift toward social conservatism. A consequence of the pandemic could be less tolerance for legal abortion and the rights for sexual minorities who don’t align with traditional gender roles. In addition, in a time of economic inequality, many women will sexualize themselves more to compete with one another for desirable men, Haselton said.

People who meet online will often be disappointed when they meet in person. “Does a couple have chemistry? You can’t tell that over Zoom,” Haselton said. In new relationships, people will miss cues, especially online, and the disappointing result will often be overidealization of a potential partner — seeing the person the way you want the person to be rather than the way the person actually is.

The pandemic has become a worldwide social experiment, say the authors, whose areas of expertise include psychology, neuroscience, behavioral science, evolutionary biology, medicine, evolutionary social science and economics.

An evolutionary struggle

For the study, the authors used an evolutionary perspective to highlight the strategies the virus has evolved to use against us, the strategies we possess to combat it and the strategies we need to acquire.

Humans today are the products of social and genetic evolution in environments that look very little like our current world. These “evolutionary mismatches” are likely responsible for our frequent lack of alarm in response to the pandemic, the scientists write.

Americans in particular value individuality and the ability to challenge authority. “This combination does not work especially well in a pandemic,” Seitz said. “This virus is exposing us and our weaknesses.”

Haselton agreed, calling the virus “wily” for its ability to infect us through contact with people we love who seem to be healthy. “Our social features that define much of what it is to be human make us a prime target for viral exploitation,” she said. “Policies asking us to isolate and distance profoundly affect our families, work lives, relationships and gender roles.”

All infectious agents, including viruses, are under evolutionary pressure to manipulate the physiology and behavior of their hosts — in this case, us — in ways that enhance their survival and transmission. SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, may be altering human neural tissue to change our behavior, the authors say. It may be suppressing feelings of sickness, and perhaps even enhancing our social impulses, during times of peak transmissibility before symptoms appear. People who are infected but do not feel sick are more likely to go about their usual activities and come in contact with others whom they might infect.

Disgust is useful and motivates us to avoid people who display clear signs of disease — such as blood, pale skin, lesions, yellow eyes or a runny nose. But with COVID-19 infections, this is not what most people see. Family, friends, co-workers and strangers can look perfectly healthy and be asymptomatic for days without knowing they are infected, the authors note.

It may sound counterintuitive, but normal brain development requires exposure to a diverse set of microbes to help prepare younger animals for a range of pathogenic dangers they may encounter in adulthood. But safer-at-home and quarantine health measures have temporarily halted social activities that would otherwise bring millions of adolescents into contact with new microbes. As a result, children and adolescents whose immune systems and brains would, in normal times, be actively shaped by microbial exposures may be adversely impacted by this change, the scientists say.

By understanding how SARS-CoV-2 is evolving and having behavioral and psychological effects on us that enhance its transmission, we will be better able to combat it so it becomes less harmful and less lethal, the authors write.

Other co-authors of the study are Steven Pinker of Harvard University, bestselling author Sam Harris, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Paul Bloom of Yale University, Athena Aktipis of Arizona State University, David Buss of the University of Texas, Joe Alcock of the University of New Mexico, Michele Gelfand of the University of Maryland and David Sloan Wilson of the State University of New York at Binghamton.

This article, written by Stuart Wolpert, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

A still from the Netflix limited series “When they See Us.”

Diversity improves among TV actors, but executives still overwhelmingly white and male

A still from the Netflix limited series “When they See Us.”

The Netflix limited series “When they See Us” was one of the top-rated digital programs of the 2018–19 season. (Photo Credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix)

-An analysis by researchers at the UCLA College found that women hold only 32.0% of studio chair and CEO jobs; minorities just 8.0%.

-Across broadcast, cable and digital, only 24.0% of credited writers are minorities and only 21.8% of episodes were directed by minorities in 2018–19.

-Representation of women and minorities in acting roles has improved since last year’s report.

-Ratings and social media engagement data show that audiences respond to diversity.


When it comes to gender and racial diversity in television industry jobs, the playing field continues to level for women and minorities, but there’s stubborn structural gridlock at the highest ranks and behind the camera.

Those are among the findings of the second part of the 2020 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, which focuses on broadcast, cable and digital programming for the past two television seasons. Part one, which was published in February, analyzed diversity in the movie business, and the authors concluded that the industry’s narrative on diversity was a tale of two Hollywoods. They write that the same is true in TV.

Women and minorities made gains in nearly all of the 13 television employment categories tracked by the report. But both groups still are not represented proportionately to their share of the U.S. population overall, even though audiences continue to show interest in programs whose casts, directors and writers represent the nation’s diversity.

“There has been a lot of progress for women and people of color in front of the camera,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College and a co-author of the report. “Unfortunately, there has not been the same level of progress behind the camera. Most notably in the executive suite, there has been very little change since we began compiling data five years ago. That’s very telling, particularly in light of our current racial reckoning.”

The report, which is compiled and published by researchers in the UCLA College social sciences division, tracks two seasons of scripted broadcast, cable and digital programming — 453 shows in 2017–18 and 463 shows in 2018–19.

In 2018–19, minority actors were almost proportionally represented (35.0%) among lead roles in scripted cable shows. (Minorities represent 40.2% of the population overall.) Women actors achieved parity in lead roles for of digital scripted shows (49.4%) and almost did so among lead roles in scripted cable shows (44.8%).

In all other job categories reviewed in the report, men hold almost twice as many jobs as women and whites hold at least twice as many as minorities. Still, there are signs of continued, albeit slow, improvement. Of all lead acting slots on broadcast shows in 2018–19, people of color held 24.0%, almost a fivefold increase from 2011–12 when it was 5.1%.

The analysis found that the greatest racial and gender disparities are in behind-the-camera jobs such as show creator, writer and director:

  • Among digital programs, just 10.3% of show creators were minorities; in broadcast, 10.7%; and for cable, 14.7%.
  • Women held 28.6% of show creator titles for digital programs, 28.1% for broadcast and 22.4% for cable.
  • In 2018–19, only 24.0% of credited writers were minorities and only 21.8% of all episodes airing or streaming were directed by minorities, on average, across broadcast, cable, and digital platforms.

And white men still dominate the high-level TV executive jobs. As of 2020, chair/CEO positions were overwhelmingly held by white people (92.0%) and men (68.0%); and the statistics were similar for of senior executives (84.0% white, 60.0% male) and unit heads (87.0% white, 54.0% male).

“Just as with film, it’s those at the top of the television industry who have the most power to foster talent and invest in programming,” said Ana-Christina Ramon, a co-author of the report and director of research and civic engagement in the UCLA division of social sciences.

“The underrepresentation of people of color in the executive suite, and as creators, writers and directors is problematic, even if there are more people of color in acting roles. When people of color do not control their own narrative, their characters’ storylines may lack authenticity, may be written stereotypically or their characters may even be depicted as ‘raceless.’”

Now, Hunt said, a big question is whether the nation’s current racial reckoning will have a significant effect on the industry’s hiring practices in a way that will be apparent in next year’s report.

The report’s authors have tracked film and television diversity data since 2014, making the study the most comprehensive record of the industry’s progress on diversity hiring.

► Related: UCLA report outlines strategy toward diversity in Hollywood

Each Hollywood Diversity Report has further established that audiences value and respond to diversity.

Among Black households, all 10 of the top-rated broadcast TV shows in 2018–19 featured casts that were at least 21% minority. But the phenomenon held among white households, too: eight of the top 10 broadcast scripted shows among white viewers had casts that were at least 21% minority.

Social media engagement tends to be strong when casts are more diverse, too. Judging viewers’ activity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter activity around scripted cable TV shows, figures spiked when the shows had majority-minority casts.

Among other findings in the report:

-Black actors reached proportional representation (12.9%) among lead actors in cable scripted shows in 2017–18 and lead actors in cable scripted programs (14.1%) in 2018–19. Black actors were also overrepresented in total cast diversity for broadcast (18.0%) and cable shows (18.2%) in 2018–19. The U.S. population is about 13% Black.

-Latinos and Asian Americans remain significantly underrepresented in nearly all industry positions.

-There is minimal presence in any job category for people of Middle Eastern and North African descent, and virtually zero representation for Native Americans.

“Over time, work has been done to improve representation among certain groups — like Black actors in particular — but the near absence of Native Americans in these jobs is potent evidence that systems of racial erasure continue to exist,” Hunt said.

This article, written by Jessica Wolf, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of a California poll tax receipt from 1857

California has removed most obstacles to voting. Why are so many still not going to the polls?

A photo of a California poll tax receipt from 1857

During California’s early years, paying a poll tax was considered an obligation of citizenship. (Photo Credit: Edson Smith Photo Collection/Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Public Library)

A new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy takes a historical view to understand why, in 2020, the electorate in California remains demographically and socioeconomically skewed.

The authors contend that vote-by-mail, near-automatic voter registration, a vote-by-mail ballot tracing system and other practices have expanded voting rights to most Californians. Yet longstanding inequities in voting patterns persist.

Despite persistent statewide policy efforts to increase voting access since 1960, voter registration and turnout are lower among people of color than among white people, the report notes. And California voters today — especially those who vote by mail — tend to be older, wealthier and whiter than the state’s overall population. For example, in Los Angeles County, wealthier and whiter districts cast as many as 40% more votes than those with heavily Latino and working-class populations.

The paper suggests that ongoing factors like gerrymandering and the disenfranchisement of former felons who are on parole may explain part of that phenomenon. (If it passes in November, however, California’s Proposition 17 would enable people on parole for felony convictions to vote.)

“Notwithstanding the efforts of the past 60 years, California still has work to do,” said Alisa Belinkoff Katz, the report’s lead author and a fellow at the center, which is housed in the UCLA College. “California’s electorate does not reflect the diversity of its population. We can only meet the present moment if we understand and eliminate policies that have historically restricted the franchise.”

For the first hundred years after 1850, when California became a state, voting laws limited access to the franchise, in effect suppressing the vote of poor and minority populations. The state passed several such policies during the late 1800s, including English literacy tests. And the federal government banned citizenship for most Native Americans and all Chinese immigrants, excluding them from the franchise altogether.

California also implemented stringent voter registration rules that made voting more difficult for people with lower incomes and those without a settled address.

After World War II, however, state officials changed course. They worked diligently both to overturn discriminatory policies and to make it easier to register and vote, launching voter registration drives, expanding absentee voting, and experimenting with all-mail elections. The state has passed legislation designed to expand the franchise almost every year since 1960.

But the study reinforces the reality that structural inequality still keeps many Californians from participating in the political process.

“California, and American society at large, must reckon with and overturn the racial and socioeconomic barriers that discourage or prevent large numbers of eligible voters form voting,” said David Myers, a UCLA professor of history and director of the Luskin Center.

Other key takeaways from the report:

– California enacted voter registration — requiring a settled address — in 1866. This limited access to the vote for the working class, poor, immigrants and racial minorities.

-From the 1890s to 1924, voter turnout in presidential elections dropped dramatically across the United States, from around 80% of eligible voters to just 49%, in part because of voter registration laws.

-California suppressed the vote with an 1899 law requiring voters to re-register every two years. The state established permanent voter registration in 1930, but that law also purged thousands of registered voters from the rolls each year if they had failed to vote in prior elections.

-A constitutional amendment allowing absentee voting barely passed in 1922 after failing three previous times. But the use of absentee voting was limited until a series of reforms beginning in 1978. Today, the vote-by-mail option is open to all, but it has not been used by all Californians at equal rates.

-An English literacy requirement for voting remained on the books until the early 1970s. It was rarely applied to European or Asian immigrants, but in the 1950s it was sometimes used by political candidates to challenge Mexican American voters at the polls.

Katz is also associate director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The research team also included Zev Yaroslavsky, a senior fellow at the center; Izul de la Vega, a UCLA doctoral student; Saman Haddad, a UCLA undergraduate; and Jeanne Ramin, a recent UCLA graduate. As part of their research, the authors interviewed California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan, two of the state’s most important elections officials.

This article, written by Maia Ferdman, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of Andrea Ghez

Andrea Ghez wins 2020 Nobel Prize in physics

Photo of Andrea Ghez

Andrea Ghez, UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics, has been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics. Photo Credit: Elena Zhukova

Andrea Ghez, UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics, today was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics.

Ghez shares half of the prize with Reinhard Genzel of UC Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. The Nobel committee praised them for “the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.” The other half of the prize was awarded to Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.”

In July 2019, the journal Science published a study by Ghez and her research group that is the most comprehensive test of Albert Einstein’s iconic general theory of relativity near the monstrous black hole at the center of our galaxy. Although she concluded that “Einstein’s right, at least for now,” the research group is continuing to test Einstein’s theory, which she says cannot fully explain gravity inside a black hole.

Ghez studies more than 3,000 stars that orbit the supermassive black hole. Black holes have such high density that nothing can escape their gravitational pull, not even light. The center of the vast majority of galaxies appears to have a supermassive black hole, she said.

“I’m thrilled and incredibly honored to receive a Nobel Prize in physics,” said Ghez, who is director of the UCLA Galactic Center Group. “The research the Nobel committee is honoring today is the product of a wonderful collaboration among the scientists in the UCLA Galactic Center Orbits Initiative and the University of California’s wise investment in the W.M. Keck Observatory.

“We have cutting-edge tools and a world-class research team, and that combination makes discovery tremendous fun. Our understanding of how the universe works is still so incomplete. The Nobel Prize is fabulous, but we still have a lot to learn.”

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block lauded Ghez for her accomplishments.

“The UCLA community is exceedingly proud of Professor Ghez’s achievements, including this extraordinary honor,” Block said. “We are inspired by her research uncovering the secrets of our universe and its potential to help us better understand the cosmos.”

David Haviland, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, said: “The discoveries of this year’s Laureates have broken new ground in the study of compact and supermassive objects. But these exotic objects still pose many questions that beg for answers and motivate future research. Not only questions about their inner structure, but also questions about how to test our theory of gravity under the extreme conditions in the immediate vicinity of a black hole.”

Ghez and her team have made direct measurements of how gravity works near a supermassive black hole — research she describes as “extreme astrophysics.”

Einstein’s general theory of relativity is the best description of how gravity works. “However, his theory is definitely showing vulnerability,” Ghez said in 2019. “[A]t some point we will need to move beyond Einstein’s theory to a more comprehensive theory of gravity that explains what a black hole is.”

Less than two months after her publication in Science, she and her research group reported in Astrophysical Journal Letters the surprising finding that the supermassive black hole is having an unusually large meal of interstellar gas and dust — and they do not yet understand why.

“We have never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied the supermassive black hole,” she said at the time. “It’s usually a pretty quiet, wimpy black hole on a diet. We don’t know what is driving this big feast.”

In January 2020, her team reported the discovery of a new class of bizarre objects — objects that look like gas and behave like stars — at the center of our galaxy, not far from the supermassive black hole.

Ghez and her team conducted their research at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. They are able to see the impact of how space and time get comingled near the supermassive black hole, which is some 26,000 light-years away.

“Making a measurement of such fundamental importance has required years of patient observing, enabled by state-of-the-art technology,” Richard Green, director of the National Science Foundation’s division of astronomical sciences, said in 2019.

“Andrea is one of our most passionate and tenacious Keck users,” Keck Observatory director Hilton Lewis said, also in 2019. “Her latest groundbreaking research is the culmination of unwavering commitment over the past two decades to unlock the mysteries of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.”

The National Science Foundation funded Ghez’s research for the past 25 years. More recently, her research has also been funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation, Lauren Leichtman and Arthur Levine, and Howard and Astrid Preston.

In 1998, Ghez answered one of astronomy’s most important questions, helping to show that a supermassive black hole resides at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The question had been a subject of much debate among astronomers for more than a quarter of a century.

Ghez helped pioneer a powerful technology called adaptive optics, which corrects the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere in real time and opened the center of our galaxy as a laboratory for exploring black holes and their fundamental role in the evolution of the universe. With adaptive optics at the Keck Observatory, she and her colleagues have revealed many surprises about the environments surrounding supermassive black holes, discovering, for example, young stars where none were expected and a lack of old stars where many were anticipated.

In 2000, Ghez and her research team reported that for the first time, astronomers had seen stars accelerate around the supermassive black hole. In 2003, she and her team reported that the case for the Milky Way’s black hole had been strengthened substantially and that all of the proposed alternatives could be excluded.

In 2005, Ghez and her colleagues took the first clear picture of the center of the Milky Way, including the area surrounding the black hole, at the Keck Observatory.

Ghez has earned numerous honors for her research, including election to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; she was the first woman to receive the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Crafoord Prize, and she was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008. In 2019, she was awarded an honorary degree by Oxford University.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT in 1987 and a doctorate from Caltech in 1992, and she has been a member of the UCLA faculty since 1994. When she was young, she wanted to be the first woman to walk on the moon.

Ghez is the eighth UCLA faculty member to be named a Nobel laureate, joining Willard Libby (chemistry, 1960), Julian Schwinger (physics, 1965), Donald Cram (chemistry, 1987), Paul Boyer (chemistry, 1997), Louis Ignarro (physiology or medicine, 1998), Lloyd Shapley (economics, 2012) and J. Fraser Stoddart (2016). Stoddart was a Northwestern University faculty member when he received the honor, but much of the work for which he was recognized was conducted at UCLA from 1997 to 2008.

In addition, seven UCLA alumni have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Ghez is also the fourth woman to receive the physics prize, following Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963 and Donna Strickland in 2018.

This article, written by Stuart Wolpert, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Guts and brains: How microbes in a mother’s intestines affect fetal neurodevelopment

The gut microbiota comprises the billions of bacteria and other microbes that live in the intestines. (Photo Credit: Alpha Tauri 3D Graphics/Shutterstock.com)

During pregnancy in mice, the billions of bacteria and other microbes that live in a mother’s intestines regulate key metabolites, small molecules that are important for healthy fetal brain development, UCLA biologists report Sept. 23 in the journal Nature.

While the maternal gut microbiota has been associated with abnormalities in the brain function and behavior of offspring — often in response to factors like infection, a high-fat diet or stress during pregnancy — scientists had not known until now whether it influenced brain development during critical prenatal periods and in the absence of such environmental challenges.

To test the impact the gut microbiata has on the metabolites and other biochemicals that circulate in maternal blood and nurture the rapidly developing fetal brain, the researchers raised mice that were treated with antibiotics to kill gut bacteria, as well as mice that were bred microbe-free in a laboratory.

“Depleting the maternal gut microbiota, using both methods, similarly disrupted fetal brain development,” said the study’s lead author, Helen Vuong, a postdoctoral scholar in laboratory of UCLA’s Elaine Hsiao.

Depleting the maternal gut microbiota altered which genes were turned on in the brains of developing offspring, including many genes involved in forming new axons within neurons, Vuong said. Axons are tiny fibers that link brain cells and enable them to communicate.

In particular, axons that connect the brain’s thalamus to its cortex were reduced in number and in length, the researchers found.

“These axons are particularly important for the ability to sense the environment,” Vuong said. “Consistent with this, offspring from mothers lacking a gut microbiota had impairments in particular sensory behaviors.”

The findings indicate that the maternal gut microbiota can promote healthy fetal brain development by regulating metabolites that enter the fetal brain itself, Vuong said.

“When we measured the types and levels of molecules in the maternal blood, fetal blood and fetal brain, we found that particular metabolites were commonly decreased or missing when the mother was lacking a gut microbiota during pregnancy,” she said.

The biologists then grew neurons in the presence of these key metabolites. They also introduced these metabolites into the microbiata-depleted pregnant mice.

“When we grew neurons in the presence of these metabolites, they developed longer axons and greater numbers of axons,” Vuong said. “And when we supplemented the pregnant mice with key metabolites that were decreased or missing when the microbiata was depleted, levels of those metabolites were restored in the fetal brain and the impairments in axon development and in offspring behavior were prevented.

“The gut microbiota has the incredible capability to regulate many biochemicals not only in the pregnant mother but also in the developing fetus and fetal brains,” Vuong said. “Our findings also pinpoint select metabolites that promote axon growth.”

The results suggest that interactions between the microbiota and nervous system begin prenatally through the influence of the maternal gut microbiota on the fetal brain, at least in mice.

The applicability of the findings to humans is still unclear, said the study’s senior author, Elaine Hsiao, a UCLA associate professor of integrative biology and physiology, and of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics in the UCLA College.

“We don’t know whether and how the findings may apply to humans,” said Hsiao, who is also an associate professor of digestive diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “However, there are many neurodevelopmental disorders that are believed to be caused by both genetic and environmental risk factors experienced during pregnancy. Our study suggests that maternal gut microbiota during pregnancy should also be considered and further studied as a factor that could potentially influence not only the health of the mother but the health of the developing offspring as well.”

Hsiao, Vuong and colleagues reported in 2019 that serotonin and drugs that target serotonin, such as antidepressants, can have a major effect on the gut’s microbiota. In 2018, Hsiao and her team established a causal link between seizure susceptibility and gut microbiota and identified specific gut bacteria that play an essential role in the anti-seizure effects of the ketogenic diet.

Co-authors of the current study are Geoffrey Pronovost and Elena Coley, UCLA doctoral students in Hsiao’s laboratory; Emily Siegler, Austin Qiu and Chantel Wilson, former UCLA undergraduate researchers in Hsiao’s laboratory; Maria Kazantsev, a former graduate student in Hsiao’s laboratory; Tomiko Rendon, a former germ-free facility manager in Hsiao’s laboratory; and Drake Williams, a researcher with the National Institutes of Health.

The Nature research was supported by funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, a Klingenstein–Simons Fellowship Award, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, and the New York Stem Cell Foundation.

This article, written by Stuart Wolpert, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Jeffrey and Wenzel.

UCLA faculty couple leaves nearly $9 million for psychology and other programs

A photo of Jeffrey and Wenzel.

Wendell “Jeff” Jeffrey and Bernice Wenzel outside Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Photo courtesy of Lynn Andrews)

UCLA has received more than $8.7 million from the estate of the late Bernice Wenzel and Wendell “Jeff” Jeffrey, UCLA professors who were well known for their longtime commitment to the university.

More than $4.5 million of their gift will support four faculty chairs, scholarships, fellowships and colloquia in the UCLA College’s psychology department. The couple had previously endowed the department’s annual Jeffrey Lecture series and the Wendell Jeffrey and Bernice Wenzel Term Chair in Behavioral Neuroscience.

“Bernice Wenzel and Wendell Jeffrey were incredible supporters of UCLA Psychology and firm believers in collaborative education and research among students and faculty alike,” said department chair Annette Stanton. “We are deeply grateful for their own contributions to science and society and for their continuing commitment to training talented students and retaining exceptional faculty.”

The rest of the funds will support the Hammer Museum at UCLA, the UCLA Emeriti/Retirees Relations Center and the UCLA Library, along with the annual Henry J. Bruman Chamber Music Festival in the UCLA College’s division of humanities. The range of benefiting areas highlights Wenzel’s and Jeffrey’s diverse interests. Lifelong learners, the two led distinguished careers as scientists but also enjoyed music, art and travel together, giving not only to UCLA but also to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Ojai Music Festival.

The couple maintained a unique connection with UCLA, where they spent significant portions of their careers. Wenzel was a professor in the department of physiology and the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and served as an assistant dean for educational research at the medical school from 1974 to 1989. Known for her groundbreaking discovery that pigeons smell and use sight and sound to guide themselves, she also helped break the glass ceiling as part of the first generation of female professors.

Jeffrey was a developmental psychologist in the psychology department, studying the learning processes of young children and mentoring graduate students by supervising research, facilitating collaboration and introducing them to well-known experts. Many of his protégés went on to become professors themselves.

The two hosted numerous student gatherings on campus and at their home, and they remained deeply engaged with UCLA after their retirement. They regularly visited campus, and Wenzel served as president of the emeriti association in 1994–95. She also was part of the Wednesday Group, a group of retired faculty and campus leaders that continued to meet weekly at the Faculty Center. Jeffrey died in 2015 and Wenzel in 2018.

“Bernice and Wendell were Bruins through and through, and their investment in education and the arts at UCLA will remain a fitting testament to their generosity and wisdom,” said Lynn Andrews, the couple’s niece, who recalls visiting her aunt and uncle on campus and benefiting from their philanthropic and artistic influences. “Having them in the family — whether my own or UCLA’s — was always an extra-special blessing.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.