Social Science Workgroup

The Social Science Workgroup is a group of SSIREP members working together on interdisciplinary, grant-funded projects that involve student participation, include social science approaches, and aim to inform policy.

2022-2023 Faculty Seed Grants

  • Partisan Preference Disparities across Venues

    Corey Lang:

    Corey Lang: Professor, Graduate Program Director Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

    Voter approved referendums are an important means for governments to raise funds for investments in public goods, including schools, transportation infrastructure, and land conservation. It is often the case that Republicans are less likely to vote to approve these measures (Holian and Kahn 2015, Lang and Pearson-Merkowitz 2022). It seems extremely unlikely that this disparity results from Republicans caring less about school quality or open space than Democrats. Corey Lang has put together preliminary data that combines voter registration data, housing data, and land conservation data – all from Massachusetts that he had already used or borrowed from one of his colleagues. 

    The results indicate that each group is roughly equally likely to live near conserved land. Because of the amenity value of open space, houses within a quarter mile of conserved land are more expensive than similar houses further away (Irwin 2002). Thus, it appears that Republicans are equally likely as Democrats to spend money to enjoy the amenities of open space, but less likely to vote for public provision of these amenities. The broad research agenda is to 1) further document these differences in preferences across venues and 2) attempt to understand mechanisms for why. The project includes housing data, observed voting on realworld referendums, and survey data. The geographic scope of inquiry includes New England and also “purple” and “red” states where voter registration data are public, such as Ohio and North Carolina. The ideas for mechanisms to investigate are government trust, risk and uncertainty, and geographic scale of public provision. The research results will have important implications for 1) which venues reveal “true” preferences for public goods and 2) limitations of direct democracy for supplying public goods.

  • Data Borders: Responses

     Melissa Villa Nicholas

    Melissa Villa Nicholas
    Melissa Villa Nicholas: Assistant Professor Graduate School of Library and Information Studies

     This project is meant to further develop a model of Latina immigrant community technology engagements, that builds on previous theory and empirical research. The purpose of this research is to interview Latina immigrant women in Riverside County to lay the foundation for the P.I. to apply for a large 3-year grant in 2023 available through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The larger project’s goal seeks to: build information and technology skills and interrogations through a series of meetings and workshops; build within a community that engages Latina’s of different citizenship status’ in a targeted area around technology needs, practices, and criticisms; and develops a toolkit around Latina immigrant community’s perspective and analysis of information technologies for dissemination among the LIS community more broadly.



  • The Impact of Trauma History and Family of Origin Relationships on Health Behaviors and Relationships in Adulthood

    Jessica Cless and Hans St. Eloi Cadely 

    Jessica Cless: Assistant Professor Human Development and Family Science
    Hans Saint-Eloi Cadely
    Hans Saint-Eloi Cadely: Associate Professor, Developmental Science Grad Program Director, Human Development and Family Science







    Beyond mental health outcomes, research has demonstrated a strong link between the incidence of traumatic stress and poor physical health outcomes. To name a few, traumatic stress can have a negative impact on sleep (Biggs et al., 2020), obesity and metabolic health (Rasmusson et al., 2010), and exercise (Smith-Marek et al., 2018; Winning et al, 2017). These impacts represent a burden not only to the individual, but also to larger systems of care. For those who experience childhood trauma, for example, the lifetime cost of recovery related care for an individual is $210,012, exceeding the cost of Type II Diabetes ($181,000; Centers for Disease Control, 2012). Research establishing these links has largely been correlational. In order to help individuals who have experienced trauma and to reduce associated health care costs, a deeper understanding is needed to understand potential causal links between traumatic stress and later life health behaviors.

    The purpose is to investigate underlying mechanisms of how history of trauma and family of origin relationships relate to health and relationship behaviors in adulthood. Jessica Cless will extend existing literature by testing how family of origin factors (e.g., family cohesion, quality of relationships) relates to positive coping in response to traumatic stress. Both individual and family member factors will be tested to determine if actor/partner effects are related to health and relationship outcomes.

    Findings from this study will be used to apply for larger funding sources that can be used to sustain this research over time. Specifically, funds will be applied to either an R21 Grant Application to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) or other appropriate federal funding opportunities as they become available. This project will be a collaboration between Dr. Jessica Cless (Principal Investigator) and Dr. Hans Saint-Eloi Cadely (Co-Investigator). Both investigators bring subject matter expertise to the project (Dr. Cless: traumatic stress, Dr. Saint-Eloi Cadely: relationships).

  • Improving Society and the Planet: Sustainability and Apparel Post-Pandemic

    Jessica Strübel, Saheli Goswami, and Ji Hye Kang

    Jessica Strubel
    Jessica Strübel: Associate Professor Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design
    Saheli Goswami
    Saheli Goswami: Assistant Professor Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design
    Ji Hye Kang: Assistant Professor Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design







    The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the fashion industry landscape with unprecedented challenges, emphasizing the humanitarian and environmental concerns of this industry. Consumers, faced with limited financial stability during and after the pandemic, have fewer resources to support sustainable consumption. While brands’ pre-pandemic sustainability initiatives were disrupted, this does not absolve them from their ethical responsibilities. Thus, the pandemic has exposed a need to address sustainability across the fashion supply chain, presenting a new opportunity to reevaluate sustainability practices and our tendencies to overconsume.

    Psychologists believe theory and positive psychology can be used to mitigate sustainability challenges, such as climate change (e.g., Nielsen et al., 2021). We seek to develop an understanding of the role of positively motivated decision-making for sustainable consumer behavior of fashion and apparel products and how to change fear-driven determinants to positive motives, attitudes, and sustainable practices in the wake of COVID-19. Ultimately, we want to offer comprehensive and effective strategies for guiding both fashion consumers and brands to transition towards sustainability. Therefore, the purpose of the first phase of this multi-phase project aims to (1) understand fashion consumers’ behavioral changes due to the pandemic, and (2) explore how marketing can effectively educate consumers towards sustainable consumption behavior.



  • Examining the Role of Employee-Oriented Mental Health Corporate Social Responsibility

    Joon Kyoung Kim and Jegoo Lee

    Joon Kim
    Joon Kyoung Kim: Assistant Professor Public Relations, Communication Studies
    Jegoo Lee: Assistant Professor Management

    Research has continuously shown that marginalized individuals, such as ethnic minorities, women, and LGBTQ individuals, are vulnerable to psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic (Yong & Germain, 2022). To end employees’ struggles with mental distress, some companies attempted to improve their employees’ levels of psychological well-being. Firms such as AT&T and Danone North America have worked to improve their employees’ mental health by investing in responsible practices (Idle, 2021), a type of corporate social responsibility (CSR), defined as “the ways in which a company’s operating practices (policies, processes, and procedures) affect its stakeholders” (Waddock & Bodwell, 2004). Indeed, there has been a growing demand for firms’ responsible actions to enhance employees’ psychological well-being and mental health (Pfeffer, 2018). Despite the increased attention from scholars and business managers about employee mental health and well-being, little is known about whether and how firms’ employee-oriented CSR (ECSR) influences employees’ mental health (Gorgenyi-Hegyes et al., 2021), specifically whether marginalized individuals have received sufficient support from their employers.

    Using the stakeholder theory as a guide, the purpose of this study is to investigate (1) how marginalized individuals have received mental health support from their employer and (2) how this support is related with employees’ psychological well-being, job-related perceptions (i.e., firm identification and job satisfaction), and behavioral intentions (i.e., career turnover intentions, favorable perceptions to firms, and substance use).

Previous Faculty Seed Grants

  • Alcohol Use and Experiences of Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence among Emerging Adult Women On and Off College Campuses (2020)

    Hans Saint-Eloi Cadely, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies

    Young adult women (18-29 years old) are at an especially high risk of experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) & sexual violence (SV). Moreover, the effects of alcohol abuse are more detrimental for young adult women relative to young adult men. Factors that have not yet been explored but that may increase emerging adult women’s likelihood of engaging in alcohol abuse and experiencing IPV and/or SV include pre-college experiences and parental supervision and communication. The latter has been shown to serve as a protective factor against engagement in alcohol use and risky sexual behaviors. However, more research is needed to understand the influence of parental communication specifically on risk-taking and risk for experiencing SV in college. Furthermore, most studies that have examined experiences of alcohol use, IPV, and SV among emerging adult women have been conducted cross-sectionally with those in urban areas or those enrolled in college. The emerging adulthood literature has often been criticized for samples being limited to college students. Dr. Saint-Eloi Cadely’s study aims to address this gap by collecting data on alcohol abuse, intimate partner violence, & sexual violence from on-campus students, students who commute, and participants who do not attend college.

  • Peer Influence on Opioid Drug Use Initiation (2020)

    Barbara J. Costello, Professor of Sociology

    Dr. Costello plans on conducting qualitative research on the social network correlates of initiating opioid drug use. Research shows that most misuse of opioid drugs is the result of the use of drugs that were not prescribed for those misusing them. Approximately two-thirds of those misusing prescription opioids acquire them from friends or family members. The percentage of heroin users who get heroin from friends, romantic partners, or family for their first use is even higher, typically over 90%. There is consensus in the research literature that social networks are key determinants of the misuse of opioid drugs. Despite this consensus, very little of this research draws on social science theory and research. There is a great deal of research in criminology and related disciplines on peer influence. Dr. Costello’s research has been unique in the field in its focus on peers as a source of influence away from deviant behaviors, in other words, positive peer influence. Dr. Costello plans on conducting approximately 25 in-depth interviews with participants invited to participate through opioid drug use treatment programs. This project will serve as a source of pilot data to use in developing a proposal for funding a larger-scale study.

  • The Impact of Message Valence on Climate Change Attitudes: A Longitudinal Experiment (2020)

    Emily P. Diamond, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Marine Affairs

    Public opinion is strongly influenced by media portrayals. As media coverage of climate change increases, it is ever more important to understand how media framing of the issue influences public perceptions, behaviors, and policy preferences. Communication researchers generally advise that positive messages communicating hope about an issue are more effective at motivating attitude and behavior change than negative fear-based appeals. However, as the seriousness and urgency of the threat has increased in recent years, media messaging on climate change has grown increasingly alarmist and negative. Using a longitudinal experimental design with repeated exposure to real climate change media articles, the findings of this study will have direct implications for both researchers, practitioners, and journalists. The analysis will measure both differences in attitudes within-subjects at the three different time points, as well as overall differences in attitude change between participants that received the positive and the negative valence messages.  SSIREP seed funds will enable Diamond to collect a pilot study to establish a proof of concept in preparation for a larger-scale study to understand the impact of media messages on climate change attitudes and policies. 

  • Prison Reform in the Era of Mass Incarceration: How to Create a Culture of Wellness? (2019)

    Natalie Pifer, Assistant Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice

    Mass incarceration has not only marked a dramatic increase in the number of people sent to prison with harsher sentences– it has also created a decline in prison conditions themselves. Confinement has become more extreme, a hallmark of which is the increased use of solitary confinement. Dr. Natalie Pifer (Criminology and Criminal Justice), is working this summer to analyze reforms in Maine’s Department of Corrections that have been successful at remediating these harsh conditions and creating a culture of wellness. Dr. Pifer’s analysis focuses on Maine’s recent history of reforms, the impact of those reforms on administrators, staff, and prisoners, and the effect that organizational culture has on the implementation of reforms. SSIREP is helping support her travel and research.

  • Political Violence and the Decrease of Democratic Acceptance (2019)

    Marc Hutchison, Professor of Political Science

    How can political violence deteriorate the public’s acceptance of democratic values such as political tolerance? By administering a comprehensive survey throughout Israel, Dr. Marc Hutchison (Political Science), is testing the psychological and political links between these factors through a SSIREP funded public opinion survey. Crucially, while similar surveys have been historically administered in Israel none to date have accounted for the Israeli Arab population, which makes up a fifth of Israel’s total population. By including both Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab populations in this survey, Dr. Hutchison seeks to provide a holistic analysis that evinces a more thorough relationship between responses to political violence and opinions on political tolerance.

  • Can Commercial Fishing Co-Exist with Offshore Wind? Risks and Risk Perceptions (2019)

    Thomas Sproul, Associate Professor of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

    The development of offshore wind farms is increasing rapidly, but formal analyses on the risks that this development may have for the commercial fishing industries have been scarce. Furthermore, five recently installed wind turbines off the shore of Block Island, Rhode Island, have caused navigational safety concerns in the surrounding commercial fishing community. Evaluating these concerns is challenging because of the multi-dimensionality of risk perception and the novelty of offshore wind turbines. Dr. Thomas Sproul (Environmental and Natural Resource Economics) and a SSIREP funded post-doctoral associate are assessing how much these stated risk perceptions reflect the assessments of risk factors through the administering of a survey to commercial fishers before and after the construction of more than 80 turbines being installed off Rhode Island as part of “Vineyard Wind.”

  • Rising Maternal Mortality Rates and Community Needs (2019)

    Alana Bibeau, Teaching Professor of Sociology

    The United States is one country out of just eight where the risks of childbirth have risen in the last generation. Furthermore, the national risk of maternal mortality is four times as high for Black women than for that of White women. Following the 2019 tragic death of Lashonda Hazard and her unborn baby in Providence, Rhode Island, where she sought hospital treatment of severe abdominal pain and was sent home, Dr. Alana Bibeau (Sociology and Anthropology) in analyzing the needs of expecting Black mothers in Rhode Island. Dr. Bibeau will use a qualitative research method based on community participation: the photovoice method. The photovoice method involves the community in mention using photography to tell their stories, needs, and issues to the surrounding public. The self-narratives portrayed through these photographs will help policy makers to make informed decisions in crafting initiatives aimed at reducing Black infant and maternal mortality rates. SSIREP is providing support to help provide funds for camera costs, printing, and participant compensation.

  • A Novel Method to Constructing Proxy Indicators in Dhaka (2019)

    Kristin Johnson, Associate Professor of Political Science (pictured at left), and Ali Akanda, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering (right)

    Amidst the challenges of data collection in the global South, Dr. Kristin Johnson (Political Science), Dr. Ali Akanda (Civil and Environmental Engineering), and two SSIREP funded graduate students are creating proxy indicators for variance in endowment and vulnerability throughout informal settlements in Dhaka, Bangladesh. These population density and poverty variance indicators will be constructed through an innovative use of visual grid-based coding on high-resolution imagery in combination with open access data from georeferenced household surveys. The data gained from these efforts offers a chance to analyze the population dynamics, efficacy of interventions, and resource access of informal settlements– all data which have previously been scarcely available. In the face of increasing climate change, and therefore increasing numbers of informal settlements, these proxy indicators can be applied to a variety of critical needs, including climate change risk assessments, infrastructure assessments, disease risk assessments, and more.

  • An Investigation of On-Shore Fishing Practices and Behaviors among Diverse Populations in Rhode Island

    Melva Treviño Peña, Assistant Professor of Marine Affairs

    Understanding how individuals perceive and utilize natural resources across racial, ethnic, and cultural divides is important because social identities inform how people experience and connect to the natural environment. Regarding capture fisheries, ethnicity and race influence how, why, and what people catch, and their seafood consumption rates. Research also shows that different minority groups have varying access to and understanding of environmental and health advisories and fishing regulations. This project seeks to illuminate the experiences of on-shore coastal fishers of diverse backgrounds and their uses of public coastal spaces. The main objectives of this project are to 1) identify how coastal fishery resources contribute to the well-being of diverse fishers in RI, 2) determine factors that facilitate or hinder these fishers from accessing these resources, and 3) assess their risk perception or awareness of existing environmental and health advisories and fishing regulations. While this study aims to explore the perspectives of diverse populations, special attention will be placed on Latinx coastal users. Most immigrants in RI are from Latin America and the Caribbean, and Latinxs are the fastest-growing minority group in RI. Bilingual (English and Spanish), qualitative intercept surveys will be employed to gain insight into fishing practices and behaviors among these coastal fishers in situ. The findings of this investigation will provide insight into the social, cultural, and economic value of coastal resources among diverse groups in RI. This information can be used to improve existing policies and environmental management plans, particularly by identifying strategies to implement previously underrepresented voices in future planning agendas for the state’s coastal resources. To carry out this research, Dr. Treviño Peña will be working with a graduate student, Melanie Nash (Marine Affairs), and two undergraduate students Gadiel Cedeño Severino (Political Science) and Science & Engineering Fellow Marian Gonzalez (Health Sciences).

  • The Alcantara Project: Engaging Indigenous Stakeholders in the Underwater Cultural Heritage of the Iberian States

    Ximena Sevilla, Department of History Multicultural Postdoctoral Faculty Fellow (PI, pictured at left), and Bridget Buxton, Associate Professor of History (Co-PI, pictured at right)

    The 64-gun Spanish Pedro da Alcantara sailed from Perú in 1786 and sank off the coast of Peniche, Portugal, with the loss of 128 lives, 603 tonnes of copper, two thousand boxes of gold and silver coins, an irreplaceable trove of cultural objects and scientific samples from the Peruvian Andes, and the son of an Inca monarch. If a shipwreck like the Alcantara was discovered today, its fate would be decided by a variety of international laws and conventions. None of them, however, recognize any legal rights of the original indigenous owners of looted cultural artifacts or people; there are no international guidelines or best practices established for involving indigenous stakeholders in the management of underwater cultural heritage. The Alcantara Project and its Portuguese, Spanish, and American collaborators are setting out to change that, at least in the case of Iberian shipwrecks carrying central and south American antiquities. With SSIREP funding, the team–which also includes undergraduate researchers Francisco Xavier Alves Pereira (pictured above, at center left) and Jose Maria Montoya (above, center right)–will first attempt to quantify and characterize the American indigenous cultural material brought to Iberia between the 15th-19th centuries and explore how different museums and local authorities are engaging with the peoples whose artifacts they hold. The next phase will be to organize a workshop to produce a white paper and blueprint for best practices for the Iberian states, and offer it as a model for a potential addendum to the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. The Alcantara Project is an ongoing endeavor that will achieve its greatest desired outcome when the next ‘Alcantara’ shipwreck is found, and both states and stakeholders respectfully work together to study and preserve its archaeological treasures.