Assigning workers to new networks boosts sustainability

Organizations looking to lead quests for sustainability can train troops within their ranks, but the traditional boundaries like experience, seniority and departments aren’t where the payoffs lie.

Social scientists at Michigan State University (MSU) and The Nature Conservancy joined to explore how best sustainability practices can be shared among employers working on big efforts. They learned it’s effective to position employees so they can learn from innovative colleagues who work in different units of the same project. Counterintuitively, those workers who may be behind the curve on these innovations are the ones to pick up the new skills.

These findings are reported in this month’s journal Organization & Environment.

“The finding that you might be best able to learn from those in different organizational units is consistent with longstanding sociological theory,” said Ken Frank, MSU Foundation Professor of Sociometrics. “Innovation comes from people in different units who have knowledge that is new to you. It suggests organizations should encourage employees to think and act outside of their network boxes from time to time.”

The group mixed surveys with qualitative evidence to look at the social networks that flow through a complex sustainability project — water resource management. The Nature Conservancy has expanded its guiding science principles and strategic framework for its work across the globe. This ramped up an emphasis on connections between people and nature, opening the door to more systemic changes. It also posed a question on how best to get that information out effectively to its thousands of staff without hiring or training.

It’s important to understand how practices that worked could go viral throughout a vast organization, especially since this model has been adopted by other conservation organizations. The team surveyed full-time The Nature Conservancy North America Region staff as well as examined ways the staff received professional development and opportunities to work with colleagues in other departments.

A practical recommendation from this study is that project team assignments that enable staff to learn from innovators may be a simple and cost-effective way to promote organizational learning for sustainability. And, surprisingly, workers who weren’t familiar with some of the newest methods and practices were the ones quickest to adapt to them.

“For individuals collaborating in a workplace, the ability to communicate and work together is imperative,” said Kaitlin Torphy, lead researcher and founder of the Teachers in Social Media Project at MSU. “Using new methods and practices that have already been adopted by one’s peers makes sense in terms of being able to work together most efficiently. Rather than wanting to be rooted in one’s way, those individuals are more open to new practices and methods.”

They also found that as effective as internships or mentoring can be, the group observed that the top-down hierarchy isn’t necessary. Peers were learning from peers.

In April 2018, several members of this team lead a study that examined which employees in vast conservation organizations were best positioned to adopt those in an organization who may be more receptive to new information, and share it with co-workers regardless of what department they’re in, or what project they work on.

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Evidence of behavioral, biological similarities between compulsive overeating and addiction

Does yo-yo dieting drive compulsive eating? There may be a connection.

According to Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) researchers the chronic cyclic pattern of overeating followed by undereating, reduces the brain’s ability to feel reward and may drive compulsive eating. This finding suggests that future research into treatment of compulsive eating behavior should focus on rebalancing the mesolimbic dopamine system — the part of the brain responsible for feeling reward or pleasure.

An estimated 15 million people compulsively eat in the U.S. It is a common feature of obesity and eating disorders, most notably, binge eating disorder. People often overeat because it is pleasurable in the short term, but then attempt to compensate by dieting, reducing calorie intake and limiting themselves to “safe,” less palatable food. However, diets often fail, causing frequent “relapse” to overeating of foods high in fat and sugar (palatable foods).

“We are just now beginning to understand the addictive-like properties of food and how repeated overconsumption of high sugar — similar to taking drugs — may affect our brains and cause compulsive behaviors,” said corresponding author Pietro Cottone, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology & experimental therapeutics at BUSM and co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders.

In order to better understand compulsive and uncontrollable eating, Cottone and his team performed a series of experiments on two experimental models: one group received a high sugar chocolate-flavored diet for two days each week and a standard control diet the remaining days of the week (cycled group), while the other group, received the control diet all of the time (control group).

The group that cycled between the palatable food and the less palatable, spontaneously developed compulsive, binge eating on the sweet food and refused to eat regular food. Both groups were then injected with a psychostimulant amphetamine, a drug that releases dopamine and produces reward, and their behavior in a battery of behavioral tests was then observed.

While the control group predictably became very hyperactive after receiving amphetamine, the cycled group did not. Furthermore, in a test of the conditioning properties of amphetamine, the control group was attracted to environments where they previously received amphetamine, whereas the cycled group were not. Finally, when measuring the effects of amphetamine while directly stimulating the brain reward circuit, the control group was responsive to amphetamine, while the cycled group was not.

After investigating the biochemical and molecular properties of the mesolimbic dopamine system of both groups, the researchers determined that the cycled group had less dopamine overall, released less dopamine in response to amphetamine and had dysfunctional dopamine transporters (protein that carries dopamine back into brain cells) due to deficits in their mesolimbic dopamine system.

“We found that the cycled group display similar behavioral and neurobiological changes observed in drug addiction: specifically, a “crash” in the brain reward system,” explained Cottone. “This study adds to our understanding of the neurobiology of compulsive eating behavior. Compulsive eating may derive from the reduced ability to feel reward. These findings also provide support to the theory that compulsive eating has similarities to drug addiction.”

“Our data suggest that a chronic cyclic pattern of overeating will reduce the brain’s ability to feel reward — feeling satiated. This results in a vicious circle, where diminished reward sensitivity may in turn be driving further compulsive eating,” said lead author Catherine (Cassie) Moore, PhD, former graduate student in the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders at BUSM.

The researchers hope these findings spark new avenues of research into compulsive eating that will lead to more effective treatments for obesity and eating disorders.

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Bad break-ups may not trigger weight gain from emotional eating

That pint of ice cream after a nasty breakup may not do as much damage as you think. Despite the emotional turmoil, people on average do not report gaining weight after a relationship dissolution, according to new research.

The study, which included researchers from Penn State, were investigating the German concept of “kummerspeck” — excess weight gain due to emotional eating — which literally translates to “grief bacon.”

Marissa Harrison, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Harrisburg, said that while hoarding food after a breakup may have made sense for humans thousands of years ago, modern humans may have grown out of the habit.

“Food was much scarcer in the ancestral environment, so if your partner abandoned you, it could have made gathering food much harder,” Harrison said. “It may have made sense if our ancestors hoarded food after a breakup. But our research showed that while it’s possible people may drown their sorrows in ice cream for a day or two, modern humans do not tend to gain weight after a breakup.”

According to the researchers, it has been well documented that people sometimes use food as a way to cope with negative feelings and that emotional eating can lead to unhealthy food choices. Because breakups can be stressful and emotional, it could potentially trigger emotional eating.

Additionally, ancient relationship dynamics may have made packing on the pounds after a breakup evolutionary advantageous.

“Modern women of course have jobs and access to resources now, but back then, it was likely that women were smaller and needed more protection and help with resources,” Harrison said. “If their partner left or abandoned them, they would be in trouble. And the same could have gone for men. With food not as plentiful in the ancestral world, it may have made sense for people to gorge to pack on the pounds.”

Harrison also noted that the existence of the word “kummerspeck” itself suggested that the phenomenon existed.

The researchers completed two studies to test the theory that people may be more likely to gain weight after a relationship breakup. In the first one, the researchers recruited 581 people to complete an online survey about whether they had recently gone through a breakup and whether they gained or lost weight within a year of that breakup.

Most of the participants — 62.7 percent — reported no weight change. According to Harrison, she and the other researchers were surprised by this result and decided to perform an additional study.

For the second study, the researchers recruited 261 new participants to take a different, more extensive survey than the one used in the first study. The new survey asked whether participants had ever experienced the dissolution of a long-term relationship, and whether they gained or lost weight as a result. The survey also asked about participants’ attitudes toward their ex-partner, how committed the relationship was, who initiated the breakup, whether the participants tended to eat emotionally, and how much participants enjoy food in general.

While all participants reported experiencing a break up at some point in their lives, the majority of participants — 65.13 percent — reported no change in weight after relationship dissolution.

“We were surprised that in both studies, which included large community samples, we found no evidence of kummerspeck,” Harrison said. “The only thing we found was in the second study, women who already had a proclivity for emotional eating did gain weight after a relationship breakup. But it wasn’t common.”

Harrison added that the results — recently published in the Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium — may have clinical implications.

“It could be helpful information for clinicians or counselors with patients who tend to eat emotionally,” Harrison said. “If your client is going through a breakup and already engages in emotional eating, this may be a time where they need some extra support.”

Victoria Warner, a Penn State Harrisburg graduate student, was the lead author of this study. Samantha Horn from Penn State Harrisburg and Susan Hughes from Albright College also participated in this work.

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Cute Leggings on Sale at Farfetch 2019

We’re strong believers in owning multiple pairs of cute leggings in and out of the gym (we tend to treat them like second skin), which is why we’re passing along some intel that there happen to be many, many designer leggings on sale at Farfetch right now. Since these stretchy bottoms are our off-duty go-tos, we’re excited to see so many pairs up for grabs from covetable, but price-y brands like The Upside, Isabel Marant, and more. The best part? Select pieces are an extra 30 percent off with the code “FX30.” If you’re in the market for a few new pairs to round out your collection, we gathered up a few of the best on sale at Farfetch that make comfort look cute.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Image analysis to automatically quantify gender bias in movies

Many commercial films worldwide continue to express womanhood in a stereotypical manner, a recent study using image analysis showed. A KAIST research team developed a novel image analysis method for automatically quantifying the degree of gender bias in in films.

The ‘Bechdel Test’ has been the most representative and general method of evaluating gender bias in films. This test indicates the degree of gender bias in a film by measuring how active the presence of womenis in a film. A film passes the Bechdel Test if the film (1) has at least two female characters, (2) who talk to each other, and (3) their conversation is not related to the male characters.

However, the Bechdel Test has fundamental limitations regarding the accuracy and practicality of the evaluation. Firstly, the Bechdel Test requires considerable human resources, as it is performed subjectively by a person. More importantly, the Bechdel Test analyzes only a single aspect of the film, the dialogues between characters in the script, and provides only a dichotomous result of passing the test, neglecting the fact that a film is a visual art form reflecting multi-layered and complicated gender bias phenomena. It is also difficult to fully represent today’s various discourse on gender bias, which is much more diverse than in 1985 when the Bechdel Test was first presented.

Inspired by these limitations, a KAIST research team led by Professor Byungjoo Lee from the Graduate School of Culture Technology proposed an advanced system that uses computer vision technology to automatically analyzes the visual information of each frame of the film. This allows the system to more accurately and practically evaluate the degree to which female and male characters are discriminatingly depicted in a film in quantitative terms, and further enables the revealing of gender bias that conventional analysis methods could not yet detect.

Professor Lee and his researchers Ji Yoon Jang and Sangyoon Lee analyzed 40 films from Hollywood and South Korea released between 2017 and 2018. They downsampled the films from 24 to 3 frames per second, and used Microsoft’s Face API facial recognition technology and object detection technology YOLO9000 to verify the details of the characters and their surrounding objects in the scenes.

Using the new system, the team computed eight quantitative indices that describe the representation of a particular gender in the films. They are: emotional diversity, spatial staticity, spatial occupancy, temporal occupancy, mean age, intellectual image, emphasis on appearance, and type and frequency of surrounding objects.

According to the emotional diversity index, the depicted women were found to be more prone to expressing passive emotions, such as sadness, fear, and surprise. In contrast, male characters in the same films were more likely to demonstrate active emotions, such as anger and hatred.

The type and frequency of surrounding objects index revealed that female characters and automobiles were tracked together only 55.7 % as much as that of male characters, while they were more likely to appear with furniture and in a household, with 123.9% probability.

In cases of temporal occupancy and mean age, female characters appeared less frequently in films than males at the rate of 56%, and were on average younger in 79.1% of the cases. These two indices were especially conspicuous in Korean films.

Professor Lee said, “Our research confirmed that many commercial films depict women from a stereotypical perspective. I hope this result promotes public awareness of the importance of taking prudence when filmmakers create characters in films.”

This study was supported by KAIST College of Liberal Arts and Convergence Science as part of the Venture Research Program for Master’s and PhD Students, and will be presented at the 22nd ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW) on November 11 to be held in Austin, Texas.

Mothers’ behavior influences bonding hormone oxytocin in babies

Oxytocin is an extremely important hormone, involved in social interaction and bonding in mammals, including humans. It helps us relate to others. It strengthens trust, closeness in relationships, and can be triggered by eye contact, empathy, or pleasant touch. It’s well known that a new mother’s oxytocin levels can influence her behavior and as a result, the bond she makes with her baby. A new epigenetic study by Kathleen Krol and Jessica Connelly from the University of Virginia and Tobias Grossmann from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences now suggests that mothers’ behavior can also have a substantial impact on their children’s developing oxytocin systems.

Childhood marks a dynamic and malleable phase of postnatal development. Many bodily systems are coming online, maturing, or getting tweaked, often setting our psychological and behavioral trajectories well into adulthood. Nature plays an obvious role, shaping us through our genes. But we are also heavily influenced by our interactions, with other people and with our environment. “It is well known that oxytocin is actively involved in early social, perceptual, and cognitive processes, and, that it influences complex social behaviors,” says Tobias Grossmann. “However, in this study we ask whether the mother’s behavior might also have a decisive influence on the development of the baby’s oxytocin system itself. Advances in molecular biology, epigenetics in particular, have recently made it possible to investigate the interaction of nature and nurture, in this case infant care, in fine detail. That is exactly what we’ve done here.”

The scientists observed a free play interaction between mothers and their five-month-old children. “We collected saliva samples from both the mother and the infant during the visit and then a year later, when the child was 18 months old. We were interested in exploring whether the involvement of the mother, in the original play session, would have an influence on the oxytocin receptor gene of the child, a year later. The oxytocin receptor is essential for the hormone oxytocin to exert its effects and the gene can determine how many are produced,” explains Kathleen Krol, a Hartwell postdoctoral fellow in Connelly’s Lab at the University of Virginia who conducted the study together with Tobias Grossmann at MPI CBS in Leipzig.

“We found that epigenetic changes had occurred in infant’s DNA, and that this change was predicted by the quality of the mother’s involvement in the play session. If mothers were particularly involved in the game with their children, there was a greater reduction in DNA methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene one year later. Decreased DNA methylation in this region has previously been associated with increased expression of the oxytocin receptor gene. Thus, greater maternal involvement seems to have the potential to upregulate the oxytocin system in human offspring,” explains the scientist. “Importantly, we also found that the DNA methylation levels reflected infant temperament, which was reported to us by the parents. The children with higher methylation levels at 18-months, and presumably lower levels of oxytocin receptor, were also more temperamental and less well balanced.”

The results of this study provide a striking example of how we are not simply bound by our genes but are rather the products of a delicate interplay between our blue prints and experiences. Early social interaction with our caregivers, certainly not excluding fathers, can influence our biological and psychological development through epigenetic changes to the oxytocin system. These and related findings highlight the importance of parenting in promoting cross-generational health.

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DEET gives humans an ‘invisibilty cloak’ to fend off mosquito bites

Since its invention during the Second World War for soldiers stationed in countries where malaria transmission rates were high, researchers have worked to pinpoint precisely how DEET actually affects mosquitoes. Past studies have analyzed the chemical structure of the repellent, studied the response in easier insects to work with, such as fruit flies, and experimented with genetically engineered mosquito scent receptors grown inside frog eggs. However, the Anopheles mosquito’s neurological response to DEET and other repellents remained largely unknown because directly studying the scent-responsive neurons in the mosquito itself was technically challenging and labor-intensive work.

Johns Hopkins researchers have now applied a genetic engineering technique to the malaria-transmitting Anopheles mosquito, allowing them to peer at the inner workings of the insect’s nose.

“Repellents are an amazing group of odors that can prevent mosquito bites, but it’s been unclear as to how they actually work. Using our new, engineered strains of Anopheles mosquitoes, we can finally ask the question, How do the smell neurons of a mosquito respond to repellent odors?,” says Christopher Potter, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience in the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“Our results from Anopheles mosquitoes took us by surprise. We found that Anopheles mosquitoes ‘smell’ neurons did not directly respond to DEET or other synthetic repellents, but instead these repellents prevented human-skin odors from being able to be detected by the mosquito. In other words, these repellents were masking, or hiding, our skin odors from Anopheles.”

The group’s research was published Oct. 17 in Current Biology.

“We found that DEET interacts with and masks the chemicals on our skin rather than directly repelling mosquitoes. This will help us develop new repellents that work the same way,” says Ali Afify, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and first author on this paper.

When researchers then puffed a scent that the mosquitoes could detect, such as the chemicals that make up the scent of human skin, onto the insects’ antennae, fluorescent molecules engineered by the group to be expressed in the antenna would light the neurons up and be recorded by a camera, showing that the mosquito’s nose detected the signal.

Using this odor-detecting setup, the researchers found that different scents, including chemical bug repellents such as DEET, natural repellents such as lemongrass, and chemicals found in human scent had different effects on the neurons.

When the researchers puffed the scent of DEET alone onto the mosquitoes’ antennae, the fluorescent molecules in the mosquitoes’ neurons did not light up, a sign that the mosquitoes could not directly “smell” the chemical. When exposed to the chemicals known to make up human scent, the neurons “lit up like a Christmas tree,” says Potter. And notably, when human scent was mixed with DEET, simulating the effect of applying the repellant to the skin, the neuronal response to the mixture was tempered, resulting in a much lower response. About 20 percent the power of the response to human scent alone.

Looking to gain insight into why this happened, the researchers measured the number of scent molecules in the air reaching the antenna to find out how much ‘smell’ was present for the insects to respond. They found that when combined with DEET, the number of human scent molecules in the air decreased to 15 percent of their previous amounts. “We therefore think that DEET traps human scents and prevents them from reaching the mosquitoes,” says Afify.

Potter and his team say they suspect that this effect is enough to mask the human scent and keep it from ever reaching the mosquito’s odor detectors.

The investigators caution that their study did not address the possibility that DEET and similar chemicals likely also act as contact repellents, possibly deterring Anopheles through taste or touch. The group also did not look at DEET’s effect on other species of mosquito — issues the researchers say they plan to tackle in future experiments.

“The sense of smell in insects is quite remarkable in its variety, and it is certainly possible that other types of mosquitoes such as Aedes mosquitoes, which can transmit Zika or Dengue, might actually be able to detect DEET. A key question to address would be if this detection is linked to repulsion, or if it’s perceived as just another odor by the mosquito,” says Potter.

The researchers say they also plan to study the specific chemical receptors in the brain responsible for detecting natural odors like lemongrass.

Anopheles mosquitoes are the most prevalent carrier of the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium, which spreads from person to person through infected bites. Malaria killed an estimated 435,000 people in 2017, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Other researchers involved in this study include Joshua Betz of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Olena Riabinina of Durham University and Chloé Lahondère of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This research was funded by the Department of Defense (W81XWH-17-PRMRP), The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (R01AI137078), a Johns Hopkins 2018 Catalyst Award, a Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute Pilot Fund and a Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Daily exposure to blue light may accelerate aging, even if it doesn’t reach your eyes

Prolonged exposure to blue light, such as that which emanates from your phone, computer and household fixtures, could be affecting your longevity, even if it’s not shining in your eyes.

New research at Oregon State University suggests that the blue wavelengths produced by light-emitting diodes damage cells in the brain as well as retinas.

The study, published today in Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, involved a widely used organism, Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, an important model organism because of the cellular and developmental mechanisms it shares with other animals and humans.

Jaga Giebultowicz, a researcher in the OSU College of Science who studies biological clocks, led a research collaboration that examined how flies responded to daily 12-hour exposures to blue LED light — similar to the prevalent blue wavelength in devices like phones and tablets — and found that the light accelerated aging.

Flies subjected to daily cycles of 12 hours in light and 12 hours in darkness had shorter lives compared to flies kept in total darkness or those kept in light with the blue wavelengths filtered out. The flies exposed to blue light showed damage to their retinal cells and brain neurons and had impaired locomotion — the flies’ ability to climb the walls of their enclosures, a common behavior, was diminished.

Some of the flies in the experiment were mutants that do not develop eyes, and even those eyeless flies displayed brain damage and locomotion impairments, suggesting flies didn’t have to see the light to be harmed by it.

“The fact that the light was accelerating aging in the flies was very surprising to us at first,” said Giebultowicz, a professor of integrative biology. “We’d measured expression of some genes in old flies, and found that stress-response, protective genes were expressed if flies were kept in light. We hypothesized that light was regulating those genes. Then we started asking, what is it in the light that is harmful to them, and we looked at the spectrum of light. It was very clear cut that although light without blue slightly shortened their lifespan, just blue light alone shortened their lifespan very dramatically.”

Natural light, Giebultowicz notes, is crucial for the body’s circadian rhythm — the 24-hour cycle of physiological processes such as brain wave activity, hormone production and cell regeneration that are important factors in feeding and sleeping patterns.

“But there is evidence suggesting that increased exposure to artificial light is a risk factor for sleep and circadian disorders,” she said. “And with the prevalent use of LED lighting and device displays, humans are subjected to increasing amounts of light in the blue spectrum since commonly used LEDs emit a high fraction of blue light. But this technology, LED lighting, even in most developed countries, has not been used long enough to know its effects across the human lifespan.”

Giebultowicz says that the flies, if given a choice, avoid blue light.

“We’re going to test if the same signaling that causes them to escape blue light is involved in longevity,” she said.

Eileen Chow, faculty research assistant in Giebultowicz’s lab and co-first author of the study, notes that advances in technology and medicine could work together to address the damaging effects of light if this research eventually proves applicable to humans.

“Human lifespan has increased dramatically over the past century as we’ve found ways to treat diseases, and at the same time we have been spending more and more time with artificial light,” she said. “As science looks for ways to help people be healthier as they live longer, designing a healthier spectrum of light might be a possibility, not just in terms of sleeping better but in terms of overall health.”

In the meantime, there are a few things people can do to help themselves that don’t involve sitting for hours in darkness, the researchers say. Eyeglasses with amber lenses will filter out the blue light and protect your retinas. And phones, laptops and other devices can be set to block blue emissions.

“In the future, there may be phones that auto-adjust their display based on the length of usage the phone perceives,” said lead author Trevor Nash, a 2019 OSU Honors College graduate who was a first-year undergraduate when the research began. “That kind of phone might be difficult to make, but it would probably have a big impact on health.”

Consumers trust influencers less when there is a variety of choices for a product

Consumers have been relying on opinion leader recommendations to make choices about product quality and purchases for a long time. It is even more prominent now with the prevalence of influencers on social media platforms. The problem is, when there is a wide variety of the same product, consumers question if a positive recommendation is based on quality or personal preferences.

New research in the INFORMS journal Marketing Science looks at what influences these opinion leaders and how firms can adjust their product variety to get the most out of their marketing venture.

Nearly 50% of consumers rely on digital influencers and 40% make purchases because of them, but it is important to note opinion leaders’ recommendations are influenced by both product quality and their individual preferences.

The study, “Opinion Leaders and Product Variety,” conducted by Dmitri Kuksov of the University of Texas at Dallas and Chenxi Liao of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, found that consumers discount a positive influencer recommendation more when it is about a product that has a large variety.

Researchers say increasing product variety does two things: it increases the likelihood of a positive expert opinion, but it also decreases the consumer certainty that the quality of the product is good based solely on the expert opinion.

“When many types of a product are available, consumers may expect an expert to find a better fit, and this consideration would then reduce consumer expectations of the product quality. As a result, the consumer valuation may decrease, which could lead to a lower profit,” said Liao, a professor in the business school at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Given that many consumers rely on opinion leaders’ recommendations to judge how good a product is, research shows firms should pay attention to this research and adjust their strategies accordingly.

“The firm’s product variety can make a difference in their sales, because the opinion leader may just like the product because of its color, which is not relevant to the consumer, instead of liking the product because of its durability,” continued Liao. “The firm can adjust the product variety to influence consumers’ quality inference and in turn their purchase decisions to earn a higher profit.”

Although firms are obviously interested in getting opinion leaders’ positive recommendations, increasing product variety may not be the solution. They may want to limit the variety due to the negative effects associated with them.

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Use of social media is taking place both online and offline

Social media has changed how people interact. However, social media use is neither static or specifically linked to certain platforms. Emerging technical capabilities, changes in lifestyle and time management as well as the increasing possibilities to engage in online and offline interaction simultaneously affect our use of social media. Those are some of the results from a new doctoral thesis on Instagram and social media from University of Gothenburg.

In her studies, PhD-student Beata Jungselius, has been focusing on Instagram use and conducted interviews with a group of users in 2012, while five years later returning to that same group of instagrammers to understand how their use of both Instagram as well as social media in general has changed over time.

“These kinds of studies, where researchers analyze users’ own descriptions of their social media use over time are very rare. By returning to and conducting in-depth interviews with the same informants in different stages of their lives, with their varied lifestyles, occupations and family situations, I have managed to get access to their own reflections on what has affected their behaviors, attitudes and perceptions of social media over time,” she says.

One of the most central factors that regulate how people use social media is related to changes in lifestyle and management of time.

“Some users described tensions within their use. For instance, someone described that on one hand she uses social media more now, but on the other hand, she is less active when doing so. Some explained that this, being less active now in terms of how they interact and post photos, has to do with having less time because of work, kids and family. Others described sort of a moral tension, as in wanting to keep up and engage with friends, but also striving to not be a person who is always on their phone,” says Beata Jungselius.

Another prominent change in how people use social media has to do with privacy preferences.

“It is clear that people have moved towards keeping conversations more private. A lot of the interaction that was previously public is now taking place in closed forums, such as via direct messages, through chats or in closed groups,” Jungselius says.

The changes in technical capabilities has also had an effect on use of social media platforms as the possibilities to communicate and interact had increased in 2017. In 2012, users had a more limited set of interactional resources to rely upon. In 2017, the users had access to a greater array of modes and could express themselves through text, photo and video, GIFs and stickers. In 2012 the platforms where more diversified where each and every one had their special feature, while today, all major social media platforms provide similar features.

Use of social media is always taking place in a larger context. Interaction on one social media platform is usually situated within a larger use, where the interaction evolves over different platforms. Also, according to Jungselius, users engage in a number of social media practices that are not always visible at first glance. Apart from producing, posting and interacting with content, users plan their own production and monitor other users and relate to social media even when not actively engaging with their phone. Usually, people engage in these activities simultaneously.

“Platforms become social as people interact on them. The more accustomed they become with these practices, the better they get at using them and are able to switch seamlessly between them. They monitor and reflect upon the feedback they get on their postings and take this feedback into account when planning their future activities. When using social media, users develop both technical and social skills. They become skilled social media users,” says Beata Jungselius.

As we are constantly connected today, social media users develop an ability to be more or less present in an online context while interacting with someone between four eyes.

“The conclusion is that we cannot divide this behavior into being either online or offline anymore. Social media is ubiquitous and activities takes place at the same time, all the time, where people orient themselves towards these platforms as part of everyday life without necessarily logging in and updating them. This is why we need to reconsider how we talk about “social media use” and reflect upon what we really mean when we talk about “using” social media,” she says.