Innovative ideas in the social sciences awarded Dean for Research funding

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019
by Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research

Projects that explore the role of online video platforms in generating partisan "information bubbles" and address gender-based violence in India have been chosen to receive grants from the Dean for Research Innovation Fund for New Ideas in the Social Sciences.

A faculty panel chose the winning proposals based on their quality, originality and potential impact. The funds are administered by the Office of the Dean for Research under the leadership of Pablo Debenedetti, dean for research, professor in engineering and applied science, and professor of chemical and biological engineering.

The winning projects are:

Do online video personalization algorithms polarize users?

Andrew Guess, Brandon Stewart and Dean Knox

Andrew Guess (photo by Egan Jimenez), Brandon Stewart (photo courtesy of Department of Sociology) and Dean Knox (photo by Sameer Khan/Fotobuddy)

Concerns are growing that the algorithms that recommend videos on YouTube and other online video platforms can place viewers in ideological "information bubbles." With more than 1.8 billion users logging in to YouTube every month, the question of whether these platforms further polarize or even radicalize users is critically important. To find out, Dean Knox, assistant professor of politics, Andrew Guess, assistant professor of politics and public affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School, and Brandon Stewart, assistant professor of sociology, are working with colleagues at MIT, Harvard, Duke, Boston University and University of Georgia to conduct controlled experiments to explore the relationship between media consumption and opinion formation. With support from the Dean for Research Innovation Fund, the team will expand the study to examine questions such as the role of preexisting beliefs and whether exposure to diverse perspectives helps individuals moderate their opinions or produces a backlash.

Prevention of gender-based crimes in public spaces

Maria Micaela Sviatschi

Maria Micaela Sviatschi. Photo by Egan Jimenez

For many women around the world, simply commuting to work or school entails risks ranging from sexual harassment to violent assault. To improve women's safety, a pilot project in Hyderabad, India, places uniformed and undercover police officers on foot patrol in bus stops, railway stations and markets to monitor gender-based violence and arrest perpetrators. Maria Micaela Sviatschi, an assistant professor of economics and public affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School, is leading a project to evaluate the benefits of the pilot program. With support from the Dean for Research Innovation Fund for New Ideas in the Social Sciences, Sviatschi will work with colleagues at the World Bank, the University of Connecticut, Australian National University, the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Munich, and partners in Hyderabad to determine whether boosting the safety of public spaces will free women to seek education and employment, thus broadly benefiting the economy. If successful, the intervention could be scaled up for use throughout the region.