Faculty research

Difficulty equals quality, an earthquake creates icebergs, the treatment of Medicare and Medicaid patients, how mothers' job losses affect children, and penguins' essential sense of smell.

It’s not the destination ...

Whether it’s personal relationships, professional ambitions, or consumer products, the difficulty of the quest can enhance the perception of quality. Chicago Booth visiting professor Aparna A. Labroo and PhD student Sarah Kim identified the phenomenon in the June 21 Journal of Consumer Research. In the relationship category, undergraduate heterosexual men identified by the researchers as “smooth talkers” rated blurry photos of potential dates higher than clear images of the same woman. Labroo and Kim conclude that men who equated more effort with a better outcome preferred the hard-to-read photos.

Tsunami breaks the ice

The March earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan caused icebergs to break away from the Sulzberger Ice Shelf a hemisphere away. Kelly Brunt, PhD’08, a NASA cryosphere specialist at Goddard Space Flight Center, and colleagues linked the events in an August 8 Journal of Glaciology paper that marked the first direct observation of the connection between tsunamis and glacier formation. Brunt, Chicago geophysical-sciences professor Douglas MacAyeal, and Northwestern University’s Emile Okal identified several new icebergs, which formed twice the surface area of Manhattan, in satellite images just after the tsunami’s sea swell reached Antarctica. The waves reached the ice shelf, about 8,000 miles from the epicenter, within 18 hours of the earthquake. Before the tsunami, the Sulzberger Ice Shelf had remained intact for 46 years.

Insurance inhibitors

Heart-failure patients covered by Medicare or Medicaid have longer hospital stays and receive fewer life-saving treatments than those with private insurance. John Kapoor, clinical assistant professor of medicine, led a study that identified the disparities, published in the September 27 Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Among the 99,508 patients studied, the uninsured and those on Medicare and Medicaid were less likely to be treated with drugs like beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors or implantable monitors that deliver electric shocks. And Medicare patients were 22 percent more likely than the privately insured to die in the hospital. Kapoor and his colleagues noted that they could not determine whether the differences were because of the therapies doctors chose or because low-income patients refused expensive treatments.

Behavioral economics

When mothers lose their jobs, children suffer more than an economic impact. The associated stress often leads to lower grades and bad behavior in school. Heather Hill, assistant professor in the School of Social Service Administration, reports in the spring 2011 Journal of Policy Analysis and Management that young children’s behavioral problems increase more than 40 percent when their mothers are out of work. Hill collected data from low-income women who found employment amid the 1990s welfare reforms. Many subsequently lost their jobs. The changing child-care arrangements and strained home lives, Hill says, “can lead to less nurturing and harsher parenting.”

A penguin nose knows

Sense of smell appears to be how birds distinguish between relatives and potential mates to avoid inbreeding. Research from the University and the Chicago Zoological Society, published September 21 in the journal PLoS ONE, could help conservationists learn how to protect endangered species. In experiments at the Brookfield Zoo, Heather Coffin, AM’09; Jill Mateo, associate professor in comparative human development; and Jason Watters of the Chicago Zoological Society, found that penguins recognized familiar scents, suggesting that birds have a more developed sense of smell than previously believed. Living in large colonies where offspring return for nesting, penguin siblings count on scent to prevent mating, the study showed. Smell is also how monogamous pairs identify each other among thousands of penguins after one has been away for days foraging for food.