Italian Master Drawings: Exhibition goes beneath the surface

Michaelangelo picture

On display will be an architectural sketch depicting a floor plan for an unrealized chapel (bottom). It was only through the use of infrared reflectography in the mid-1990s that the sketch, located on the reverse side of a study of profile heads (top) that had been tentatively associated with the artist, was confirmed as the work of Michelangelo. Michelangelo, Bust of a Youth and Character Head of an Old Man, 1520s. Black chalk on tan laid paper. Gift of Frank Jewett Mather Jr. (Photos courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum)

A new exhibition, 500 Years of Italian Master Drawings from the Princeton University Art Museum, on view from Jan. 25 through May 11, 2014, explores the mental process behind creation through nearly 100 rarely seen highlights by such masters as Vittore Carpaccio, Michelangelo, Luca Cambiaso, Gianlorenzo Bernini, Guercino, Salvator Rosa, Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, and Amedeo Modigliani.

The creative process is captured in the Italian word disegno, which translates as “drawing” or “design.” But the term is far richer, said Laura Giles, the Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Princeton University Art Museum. She defined the term as “encompassing both the mental formulation and the physical act of creation,” a construct that was, she added, “embedded into the Italian drawing process by the 15th century.”

The exhibition represents the culmination of more than 35 years of scholarship on the museum’s Italian drawings, including the acquisition of more than 125 works that have entered the collection through gift, bequest or purchase.

Many of the drawings have benefited from new insights concerning attribution, iconography, dating, function and provenance. Among the many noteworthy findings is the discovery, first made in the 1990s, of an architectural sketch by Michelangelo on the reverse side of a study of profile heads that had been tentatively associated with the artist. The drawing, depicting a floor plan for an unrealized chapel, is obscured from view by an 18th-century collector’s mount. Only through the utilization of infrared reflectography was the floor plan revealed.

The exhibition celebrates the publication of a new scholarly catalogue, Italian Master Drawings from the Princeton University Art Museum, authored and edited by Giles, Postdoctoral Research Associate Lia Markey and Renaissance art specialist Claire Van Cleave, with contributions from many leading scholars.

Laura Giles

Laura Giles, the Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970, Curator of Prints and Drawings, is curating the exhibition. (Photo by Henry Vega)

The catalogue is the first academic exploration of the collection since 1977. The research for the catalogue received significant support from The Getty Foundation’s Cataloguing of Museum Collections Grant Program.

In tandem with the publication of the exhibition catalogue, the museum will add updated research and high-resolution images to its online collections catalogue, allowing global access to the Italian drawings collection.

The museum’s collection of over 80,000 works includes more than 1,000 Italian drawings from the 15th through the early 20th century, encompassing the history of Italian art from the early Renaissance to early modernism.

–By Erin Firestone

Green roofs’ energy savings hinge on climate

Green roofs

Green roofs, such as these above the dormitory at Princeton’s Butler College, must be designed so that they take advantage of local climate conditions. (Photo by Brian Green)

Urban planners who want green roofs in their cities need to remember that the roofs may not work the same way in different climates. Green roofs, which are covered with a layer of a vegetation to keep the building cool, perform differently according to the amount of solar radiation and precipitation present, according to Elie Bou-Zeid, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

In a study published in the journal Building and Environment, Bou-Zeid and his team found that the green roofs on the campuses of Princeton and Tsinghua University in Beijing performed similarly when the researchers controlled for the radiation and precipitation levels in the two areas, indicating the levels’ importance in green roof function. With support from the U.S. Department of Energy through Pennsylvania State University’s Energy Efficiency Building Hub and the National Science Foundation of China, the researchers used surface temperature, heat convection from the Earth’s surface to the atmosphere, and the amount of incident energy conducted through the roof as performance measures.

Bou-Zeid

Elie Bou-Zeid, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, stands with a wireless sensing station that measures wind speed and direction, air temperature, relative humidity, surface temperature, and incoming and reflected solar radiation from black and white roofs. (Photo by Elle Starkman)

Bou-Zeid said he hopes his work will help city planners account for the specific climatic conditions in their cities when integrating rooftop gardens into their building decisions, and assess the potential benefits of irrigation that improves green roof performance in dry periods.

Highly effective green roofs are important in cities, which suffer from the “urban heat island” phenomenon: a sustained period of excessive heat in metropolitan areas caused by buildings that absorb heat and release it into the atmosphere, a lack of vegetation, and high human activity. Increasing the number of green spaces will trap rainwater, Bou-Zeid explained, thereby providing a “heat sink” in which evaporation of that water encourages heat loss and cools things down.

The New York City Office of the Mayor is taking the heat waves of the city particularly seriously, Bou-Zeid said. New York’s asphalt and concrete roads and buildings actively absorb heat, making the area sometimes up to seven degrees warmer than its neighbors. Bou-Zeid is working with representatives from the NYC Cool Roofs program, a citywide initiative to promote the use of reflective, white rooftop coating, to examine which areas of the city will suffer most during a heat wave. He later hopes to relate physical maps of area-specific heat stress in the city to physical health indicators.

“Heat waves are the deadliest natural disasters,” Bou-Zeid said. He noted that the 2003 European heat wave, which produced the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest-ever August, caused up to 70,000 deaths in the region. “They are silent killers.”

–By Tara Thean

Telescopes take the universe’s temperature

Two telescope projects are measuring cosmic microwave background radiation with the goal of understanding more about the universe’s early history. The telescopes (pictured) are located on a peak in the Atacama Desert in Chile. (Image courtesy of ACT Collaboration)

Two telescope projects are measuring cosmic microwave background radiation with the goal of understanding more about the universe’s early history. The telescopes (pictured) are located on a peak in the Atacama Desert in Chile. (Image courtesy of ACT Collaboration)

Two telescopes on a Chilean mountaintop are poised to tell us much about the universe in its infancy. They are surveying the faint temperature fluctuations left over from the explosive birth of the universe, with the goal of piecing together its early history and understanding how clusters of galaxies evolved.

The telescopes are measuring these temperature fluctuations, known as cosmic microwave background radiation or CMB for short, from their perch 17,000 feet above sea level in Chile’s desolate Atacama Desert, where a dry atmosphere permits radiation to reach Earth with relatively little attenuation. In contrast to backyard telescopes that help us see visible light from stars and planets, these telescopes collect invisible microwave radiation.

Lyman Page

Lyman Page

These invisible waves are mostly uniform but contain slight differences in intensity and polarization that hold a wealth of information for cosmologists, said Lyman Page, the Henry De Wolf Smyth Professor of Physics. Page and Professor of Physics Suzanne Staggs co-lead two telescope projects, the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) and the Atacama B-mode Search telescope (ABS), which are funded by the National Science Foundation.

“If you imagine the temperature perturbations as a distant mountain range, the peaks and valleys correspond to the temperature variations,” Page said. “By looking at the patterns — the spacing between peaks, and whether they are narrow or fat — we are able to answer questions about the composition and evolution of the universe,” Page said.

ACT, which is about 18 feet across and looks like a giant metal bowl, has already made new discoveries, and confirmed and extended the findings of other CMB surveys, including two space-based telescopes, NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and the European Space Agency’s Planck mission. A new, more sensitive receiver is currently being mounted on the ACT telescope, which is a collaborative effort with David Spergel, Princeton’s Charles A. Young Professor of Astronomy on the Class of 1897 Foundation, along with researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the University of British Columbia, and 10 other institutions contributing significantly to the instruments and analysis.

Suzanne Staggs

Suzanne Staggs

The CMB originated in the hot plasma soon after the Big Bang, which cosmologists consider to be the birth of the universe. As the universe expanded, the radiation propagated, carrying the secrets of the early universe with it. One of the questions is why the CMB on opposite sides of the universe is so similar in temperature. The leading explanation of this observation is the inflation model, which posits that the universe underwent a rapid acceleration of its expansion just after the Big Bang.

This is where the lower-resolution, second telescope comes in. Co-led by Staggs, the ABS is looking for signs of inflation. “Inflation should produce gravitational waves which create patterns in the CMB called ‘B modes,’” said Staggs. B modes are extremely faint — to measure them requires an instrument that can detect temperature changes of just billionths of a degree. To obtain these sensitivities, ABS mirrors, which are relatively small at about two feet across, sit inside a cryogenically cooled barrel.

The two telescopes can be operated remotely, but require frequent trips to the Chilean peak, which often include Princeton students and postdocs. The team at Princeton includes Senior Research Physicist Norm Jarosik, Associate Research Scholar Jonathan Sievers, postdoctoral researchers Matthew Hasselfield, Rénee Hložek, Akito Kusaka and Laura Newburgh, and graduate students Farzan Beroz, Kang Hoon (Steve) Choi, Emily Grace, Colin Hill, Shuay-Pwu (Patty) Ho, Christine Pappas, Lucas Parker, Blake Sherwin, Sara Simon, Katerina Visnjic and Sophie Zhang.

–By Catherine Zandonella

Manuscripts spark dialogue on authorship

Martin Kern

Martin Kern (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Hundreds of early Chinese bamboo, silk and wood manuscripts excavated in the last 40 years are challenging the idea of the author as the sole creator of literary work.

Not one of the manuscripts, which include philosophical and literary essays as well as administrative and technical writings from pre-Imperial or ancient China (before 221 B.C.), mentions its author, according to Martin Kern, a Chinese literature expert in the Department of East Asian Studies. The texts are also difficult to attribute to any one author, as individual manuscripts can sometimes have little to do with each other and are thus difficult to categorize. The absence of explicit author credits and the composite nature of the early Chinese texts, Kern said, calls into question the idea that for ancient China, scholars can equate a written artifact with the original thought of a sole individual.

“We have to rethink the idea that for a text to be credible it has to be tied to a certain person from the beginning,” Kern said. He explained that in the Chinese tradition beginning in early Imperial times, the dominant approach to “saying what a text is” involves attributing entire books to one prominent figure even though they contain a range of disparate chapters most likely not composed by a particular individual. The “author” then becomes a principal actor for imbuing a text with meaning, anchoring a text in a particular time, place and literary or philosophical niche according to the traditional perception of his — and in this time period the author could be assumed to be male — ideas and biography.

Chinese literature expert Martin Kern studies ancient texts such as this one, a bamboo strip (presented in segments in image) containing a manuscript dating from around 300 B.C. and probably from a tomb in southern China. (Image courtesy of the Shanghai Museum.)

Chinese literature expert Martin Kern studies ancient texts such as this one, a bamboo strip (presented in segments in image) containing a manuscript dating from around 300 B.C. and probably from a tomb in southern China. (Image courtesy of the Shanghai Museum.)

“We start out with the assumption of a unifying person with a unifying set of ideas,” Kern said, referring to interpretations of ancient Chinese literature. “Now we look at these texts, and we see it’s not at all like that.”

Kern, who publishes in both English and Chinese, pointed to fifth-century B.C. Greece to further highlight the contrast between pre- Imperial Chinese texts and those of early Greece. The writings of several Greek philosophers explicitly identify Homer as the creator of poetry, and other Greek figures such as Herodotus and Thucydides established their creator roles at the outset of their texts. In making their authorship explicit, Kern argued, the writers marked their works with a well-defined historical, geographical and cultural context that would later be instrumental in guiding the texts’ reception.

By contrast, the classics of ancient China went for centuries without authorial attribution — long after they had spread across the vast Chinese realm. This is not to say that authorship had no place in Chinese literature at all — the Imperial Chinese tradition is rife with examples of texts that were intimately linked to individual personalities. However, Kern suggests that these are only later developments, beginning in the second century B.C. with the newly established empire, and must not be projected backwards in time to the formative pre-Imperial period of China.

“The textual attributions for the pre-Imperial authors come into being retrospectively,” he said. Kern, the Greg (’84) and Joanna (P13) Zeluck Professor in Asian Studies and chair of the East Asian studies department, hopes to encourage others in his field to rethink prevailing assumptions about authorship in antiquity. He also wants to spread his ideas to colleagues beyond Chinese studies.

“I want to say, ‘look, you have your situation in Western classical antiquity, and … you think everything about that is normal — in the same way that the Chinese tradition considers itself the normal case,’” he said. Yet the Chinese evidence for composite texts complicates the notion of an “author” and shows it as “a totally cultural decision,” he said.

–By Tara Thean

Found in translation: Scholar locates source of 18th-century Quran

Alexander Bevilacqua

Graduate student Alexander Bevilacqua with George Sale’s 1734 edition of the Quran, a highly influential English translation, in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton’s Firestone Library. Bevilacqua rediscovered the source material for Sale’s translation in a London archive. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In a London archive, Alexander Bevilacqua found it: a medieval copy of the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Its aging pages, Bevilacqua knew, contained the original source for a highly influential 18th-century English translation of the Quran by George Sale.

Bevilacqua had embarked on a quest to find out how Sale, a self-taught Arabic speaker and amateur scholar in England, came to write such an enduring and unprejudiced translation in 1734, at a time when many Europeans viewed Islam with distrust.

A Ph.D. candidate in history, and fluent in five languages, Bevilacqua studies the ways in which cultures exchange ideas across the ages. His inspiration comes from growing up in Italy, surrounded by Roman ruins and the Musliminfluenced architecture of nearby Spain.

In this interview, Bevilacqua explains the importance of his finding.

Arabic manuscript

Bevilacqua discovered this medieval Arabic manuscript of the Quran, which served as a basis for George Sale’s English translation, in the London Metropolitan Archive. Sale borrowed this copy from the Dutch Church in 1733. (Reproduced with permission of the trustees, Nederlandse Kerk Austin Friars, London)

Why was George Sale’s English version of the Quran so influential?

Prior to his version, the best information about Islam was available in Latin. Sale included a lengthy preface in which he explained many historical facts about Islam. His efforts undercut the prejudicial notions about Islam that had circulated since medieval times. Sale’s translation remained the standard English version into the 20th century.

How did you come to discover the Arabic manuscript that Sale used?

Sale tells us in his preface that he employed a commentary written by a medieval Arabic scholar named Baydawi, which he had borrowed from the Dutch Church library in London. According to church records, the manuscript was donated in 1633 by a Dutch trader who had purchased it in Istanbul. The book sat in the library for 100 years until Sale borrowed it. I found out that the Dutch Church’s collection had been transferred to the London Metropolitan Archive, which houses city records. Its custodians didn’t quite realize they possessed such a precious book. The first time I visited, I was able to touch it, but after I explained its significance, I was asked to wear gloves.

What influence did the manuscript have on Sale’s translation?

Sale used particular words and phrases that were my smoking gun to show that he was working from this particular copy of the Quran rather than from existing European translations. Sale’s reliance on the commentary that accompanies the text shows us that Europeans of the time wanted to know how Muslims read and understood the Quran.

English version

An edition of George Sale’s translation of the Quran is held in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton’s Firestone Library. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

What have you learned about historical research?

One thing I’ve learned is that knowledge is so often produced in collaboration, or rather, by the efforts of multiple people, sometimes in the same time and place and sometimes over the centuries in different places. Sale consulted both European and Arabic authorities. This kind of discovery also reminds me how much remains to be learned about our past.

“Alex’s finding adds to our understanding of the 18th-century European mind and its openness to using tools from the Arab tradition to understand the Quran,” said Anthony Grafton, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History. Bevilacqua’s advisers are Grafton and Michael Cook, the Class of 1943 University Professor of Near Eastern Studies.

Bevilacqua’s research was funded by the American Historical Association, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the Society for French Historical Studies. His article on George Sale’s translation of the Quran, an edition of which is held in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton’s Firestone Library, will appear in the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes in November 2013.

–By Catherine Zandonella

Collective behavior could help animals survive a changing environment

Princeton researchers found that collective intelligence is vital to certain animals’ ability to evaluate and respond to their environment. Conducted on golden shiners, the research demonstrated that social animals such as schooling fish rely heavily on grouping to effectively navigate their environment. (Image by Sean Fogarty)

Princeton researchers found that collective intelligence is vital to certain animals’ ability to evaluate and respond to their environment. Conducted on golden shiners, the research demonstrated that social animals such as schooling fish rely heavily on grouping to effectively navigate their environment. (Image by Sean Fogarty)

For social animals such as schooling fish, the loss of their numbers to human activity could eventually threaten entire populations, according to a finding that such animals rely heavily on grouping to effectively navigate their environment.

Princeton researchers have found that collective intelligence is vital to certain animals’ ability to evaluate and respond to their environment. Conducted on fish, the research demonstrated that small groups and individuals become disoriented in complex, changing environments. However, as group size is increased, the fish suddenly became highly responsive to their surroundings.

These results should prompt a close examination of how endangered group or herd animals are preserved and managed, said Iain Couzin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. If wild animals depend on collective intelligence for migration, breeding and locating essential resources, they could be imperiled by any activity that diminishes or divides the group, such as overhunting and habitat loss, he explained.

“Processes that increase group fragmentation or reduce population density may initially appear to have little influence, yet a further reduction in group size may suddenly and dramatically impact the capacity of a species to respond effectively to their environment,” Couzin said. “If the mechanism we observed is found to be widespread, then we need to be aware of tipping points that could result in the sudden collapse of migratory species.”

The work is among the first to experimentally explain the extent to which collective intelligence improves awareness of complex environments, the researchers write. As it’s understood, a group of individuals gain an advantage by pooling imperfect estimates with those around them, which more or less “averages” single experiences into surprisingly accurate common knowledge.

With their work, Couzin and his co-authors uncovered an additional layer to understanding collective intelligence. The conventional view assumes that individual group members have some level of knowledge albeit incomplete. Yet the Princeton researchers found that in some cases individuals have no ability to estimate how a problem needs to be solved, while the group as a whole can find a solution through their social interactions. Moreover, they found that the more numerous the neighbors, the richer the individual — and thus group — knowledge is.

These findings correlate with recent research showing that collective intelligence — even in humans — can rely less on the intelligence of each group member than on the effectiveness of their communal interaction, Couzin said. In humans, research suggests that such cooperation would take the form of open and equal communication among individuals regardless of their respective smarts, he said.

The researchers placed fish known as golden shiners in experimental tanks in groups as low as one and as high as 256. The tanks featured a moving light field that was bright on the outer edges and tapered into a dark center. To reflect the changing nature of natural environments, they also incorporated small patches of darkness that moved around randomly. Prolific schoolers and enthusiasts of darkness, the golden shiners would pursue the shaded areas as the researchers recorded their movement using computer vision software. Although the fish sought the shade regardless of group size, their capability to do so increased dramatically once groups spanned a large enough area.

The researchers then tracked the motion of individual fish to gauge the role of social influence on their movement. They found that individuals adjusted their speed according to local light level by moving faster in more brightly lit areas, but without social influence the fish did not necessarily turn toward the darker regions. Groups, however, readily swam to dark areas and were able to track those preferred regions as they moved.

This collective sensing emerged due to the coherent nature of social interactions, the authors report. As one side of the group slowed and turned toward the shaded area, the other members did as well. Also, slowing down increased density and resulted in darker regions becoming more attractive to these social animals.

Couzin worked with lead authors Andrew Berdahl, a Princeton graduate student, and postdoctoral fellow Colin Torney, both in Couzin’s lab, as well as with former lab members Christos Ioannou and Jolyon Faria, who are now at the University of Bristol and the University of Oxford, respectively. The work was published in the Jan. 31, 2013, issue of Science, and was supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Army Research Office and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

–By Morgan Kelly

The rising cost of health care: Students examine policy solutions

Economics students

Five members of the Class of 2013 were honored by Princeton’s Benjamin H. Griswold III, Class of 1933, Center for Economic Policy Studies for their senior thesis work. Left to right: Jio Park, Samuel Dresner, Maeve Drablos, Ameer Elbuluk and Shirley Lee. (Photo by Kevin Birch)

With health care costs soaring, opinions abound on the best way to control costs without sacrificing patient outcomes. This past academic year, as part of their senior thesis research, several top students from the Department of Economics took a closer look at the link between health care costs and quality of life.

Merger fever

Jio Park examined the impact of hospital mergers on the quality of medical care. “Much of the existing literature focuses on the effects of mergers on costs and prices,” Park said. “I wanted to explore whether or not they affect patient outcomes.”

Park examined mergers that took place in California between 1996 and 2010. She found that mergers are associated with higher mortality rates, reflecting a reduction in quality. She concluded that the adverse effects of mergers are especially strong for patients with high-risk medical conditions such as congestive heart failure and pneumonia.

Park’s adviser, Nancy Reichman, a visiting professor in the economics department and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and a professor of pediatrics at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, praised the research, which earned the Department of Economics’ highest honor for a senior thesis, the Wolf Balleisen Memorial Prize. “Jio used many types of statistical techniques to look from all angles at hospital mergers and their effect on mortality,” Reichman said. “This is an exceptional piece of work.”

Hospice versus hospitals

Ameer Elbuluk examined how patients decide between aggressive hospital-based treatments versus palliative hospice care.According to Elbuluk’s research, most patients with serious illness would prefer to die in the company of family and loved ones. He also found that even with aggressive treatment, people were not living longer. Yet the cost of aggressive treatment was significant, according to the studies that Elbuluk found. For example, a 2011 study found that Medicare, the government program that serves the elderly, spends about one-third of its total budget on patients with chronic illness in their last two years of life.

To study the factors associated with increased hospice use, Elbuluk used data from the National Home and Hospice Care Survey (NHHCS). Elbuluk found that hospice use was more likely among patients who had a living will or advance care directive. Patients were more likely to choose hospice if regular doctor visits were provided.

The largest barrier to hospice use, Elbuluk found, stemmed from Medicare policies. Elbuluk noted that before approving hospice care, Medicare requires a physician’s diagnosis that the patient has less than six months to live if the illness were to run its natural course. In his research, however, Elbuluk found that physicians are reluctant to make such a diagnosis.

Elbuluk’s thesis yields policy suggestions that could help increase the use of hospice care and reduce unnecessary expenditures, according to his adviser, Elizabeth Bogan, a senior lecturer in economics. “It is wonderful that we have students who are excellent scholars,” she said.

Park and Elbuluk presented their findings with three other seniors, Maeve Drablos, Samuel Dresner and Shirley Lee, at the annual undergraduate student research forum hosted by the Benjamin H. Griswold III, Class of 1933, Center for Economic Policy Studies.

“Each of these students has conducted a sophisticated work of analysis,” said Uwe Reinhardt, a leading authority on health care economics and the James Madison Professor of Political Economy, and professor of economics and public affairs at the Wilson School. Reinhardt is a co-director of the Griswold Center with Hyun Song Shin, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of Economics.

–By Catherine Zandonella

Race and incarceration rates: Student researcher explores solutions

Image of razorwire

Danielle Pingue, Class of 2013, focused her research on the ways in which nonprofits are contributing to policy reform in the criminal justice system.

African Americans made up 40 percent of incarcerated individuals in the United States in 2012, despite being only 13 percent of the American population, according to the United States Census Bureau. Danielle Pingue, Class of 2013, wanted to know what could be done to change that statistic.

Danielle Pingue, Class of 2013 (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

Danielle Pingue, Class of 2013 (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

For her senior thesis project, Pingue analyzed three nonprofit organizations engaged in incarceration reform. She found that, while these programs were promising, additional policy changes and judicial reforms are needed to shrink the racial disparity in incarceration rates.

“One thing scholars agree on is that mass imprisonment has produced a host of undesirable consequences, particularly for African Americans,” Pingue said, “including the loss of the right to vote and barriers to employment, purchasing a car, and access to quality health care. These disadvantages can affect entire African American communities, including non-offenders.” To find out what nonprofits are doing to address the issue, Pingue conducted in-depth interviews and reviewed policy briefs and other documents. Pingue focused on three organizations — the Sentencing Project, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Project.

These groups advocate for reforms such as reduced drug-related sentences, rehabilitation rather than prison for nonviolent offenders, placement services for ex-felons re-entering society, and job training for economically disadvantaged youth. Additional reforms include ending biased police practices such as racial profiling.

Pingue found that nonprofits have had a positive effect on government incarceration policies. For example, lobbying by the Sentencing Project and the NAACP LDF contributed to a reduction in federal drug-related sentences through the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

She found room for improvement, however. “One of the more surprising findings of my research was that the reform that nonprofits are pursuing — mostly litigation or lobbying — may not represent what a large bulk of the affected population feels needs to be done,” Pingue said. She concluded that nonprofits need to do more to connect with affected communities.

Imani Perry, professor of African American studies, advised Pingue on the project. “The problem of racialized mass incarceration devastates communities, families and individual lives,” Perry said. “I’m very impressed by Danielle’s research into the range of policy recommendations and lobbying efforts of nonprofit organizations working on how to address this problem.”

During her undergraduate education, Pingue interned at Princeton’s Center for African American Studies and concentrated her studies in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs with a certificate in African American studies.

Pingue, who was born in Jamaica and moved with her parents to Worcester, Mass., when she was 10, will enter Harvard Law School in the fall. After law school she hopes to enter politics, perhaps as a representative working with disadvantaged communities. “My long-term goal is to go back to Jamaica and work on social policy and developmental issues, bringing the work that I’ve learned in the United States back to my birthplace,” she said.

–By Catherine Zandonella

The social network: Program combats bullying

New laws and policies to address harassment and intimidation in schools are sprouting up in every state. But can laws and polices put a stop to bullying, or do students play a role?

Psychologist Elizabeth Levy Paluck has set out to demonstrate that students can change the climate of a school from one that tolerates bullying to one that promotes positive behavior. She is leading a research program in 58 New Jersey middle schools that harnesses the power of students’ social networks to change behavior and reduce bullying.

Elizabeth Paluck

Elizabeth Levy Paluck, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs, is pursuing research in New Jersey middle schools to test whether it is possible to change social norms regarding bullying by targeting students’ social networks. (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

The project tests the premise that the best way to change social norms is to target the most socially connected people, and then allow the change to diffuse through the group, said Paluck, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs. “People construct their ideas of acceptable behavior by observing others, especially influential individuals,” she said. “We would like to know if we can change the culture of a school by first changing the attitudes and behavior of these individuals.”

Paluck stressed that while some of these students are “popular,” others are the unofficial leaders of non-mainstream social groups organized around a common interest such as skateboarding or glee club.

Paluck is conducting the project, which is supported by the William T. Grant Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and Princeton’s Educational Research Section, with Hana Shepherd, a postdoctoral research associate in the psychology department and Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The first step in the project, which began in fall 2012, was to identify a school’s influential students, or “social referents.” The researchers asked the entire student body to fill out a questionnaire listing the other individuals in his or her network. Privacy was preserved via use of anonymous codes. Using a mathematical algorithm, the Paluck team then constructed models of every social network in the school and combed for individuals with lots of connections within networks.

Social network

Elizabeth Levy Paluck, assistant professor of psychology and public affairs, and her team mapped the social networks of middle school students to identify influential individuals (social referents), who were then randomly assigned to either participate or not participate in an intervention program designed to reduce conflict in schools. In a pilot study, the researchers found that students (first-degree and second-degree connections) in the networks of social referents who participated in the antibullying program were less likely to view conflict as acceptable at the school, and were less likely to be disciplined for peer conflict, compared to students in networks of social referents who did not participate in the intervention program. (Original illustration courtesy of Elizabeth Levy Paluck.)

Once identified, some of these well connected individuals were randomly selected to join a group where they learned about bullying prevention and created an intervention program to spread positive social norms through efforts such as student assemblies, posters and wristbands. “It was important that the students design the program, to ensure that it meets their needs,” Paluck said.

Prior to starting the intervention program, the researchers conducted a baseline survey of attitudes toward bullying. At the end of the 2012-13 school year, the team conducted a follow-up survey of attitudes and collected information on behaviors. While the New Jersey results are not yet in, a pilot project in a school in Connecticut found improvements in attitudes about bullying and in reduced incidents of harassment and intimidation.

The much larger New Jersey study should allow the researchers to compare schools that received the intervention to those that did not. Within each school, the researchers can compare the attitudes and behaviors of students who belong to the networks of socially influential students who participated in creating antibullying interventions to students in the networks of influential students who did not participate.

“We need to know whether we changed the climate of conflict, did we set into motion a new expectation of what behaviors are desirable, did we make an overall difference?” Paluck said. “You cannot test this with only one social network, you have to compare to other networks where intervention was not done.”

–By Catherine Zandonella

Explain me something: How we learn what not to say

Adele Goldberg

Adele Goldberg, a professor of linguistics in Princeton’s Council of the Humanities, and her research team use nonsense words — such as ablim, adax and afec — to study how we learn which combinations of words are allowed and which are not. (Photo by Till Dreier. Illustration by Ilissa Ocko)

Explain me something. She considered to go. The asleep dog snored. We have learned to avoid using these phrases although it is difficult to say exactly why explain me is not allowed but tell me is acceptable. Somehow we have learned that consider to go is wrong but decide to go is right, and that although the asleep dog sounds odd, the sleeping dog sounds fine.

So how do we learn what not to say?

Through a series of experiments, linguist Adele Goldberg and her team believe they have found the answer: language learners create expectations about how words and phrases will be used, and if a different form is repeatedly heard instead, the previously expected form will be ruled out.

For example, when a young language learner expects to hear he disappeared the rabbit, but instead repeatedly hears he made the rabbit disappear, then the child learns that the second sentence is preferred, said Goldberg, professor of linguistics in Princeton’s Council of the Humanities. Linguists call this the “statistical preemption” theory because language learners record the frequency and context of phrases that then preempt the use of the expected phrases, Goldberg said.

This cycle of expecting one formulation followed by witnessing an alternate formulation helps language learners eliminate phrases that at first glance would seem to be allowable.

To test the idea of statistical preemption, in one study, Goldberg and postdoctoral researcher Jeremy Boyd looked specifically at adjectives that start with an unstressed a, such as asleep and afraid. (In Old English, asleep was a contraction of in sleep so the phrase, the in sleep dog was not used, explaining our modern day avoidance of the asleep dog. Many “a”-adjectives follow this pattern.)

Boyd asked 32 college-age volunteers to create new sentences using nonsense “a”-adjectives, such as afec, of which people have no prior knowledge. He found that when people had been led to expect to hear the afec fox (which is analogous to the asleep fox), but then heard the preemptive phrase the fox that was afec (which is analogous to the fox that was asleep), they quickly learned to avoid using the afec fox, a finding that affirms the statistical preemption theory.

Boyd also found that when the context was manipulated so a new set of volunteers did not form an expectation to hear the afec fox, the volunteers showed no evidence of avoiding it, even though they had heard the preemptive phrase the fox that was afec. The results were repeated using many other nonsense “a”-adjectives.

“From this study we concluded that learners use preemptive contexts and what is more, they are smart about what counts as a preemptive context,” said Goldberg, who receives support for her research from the National Science Foundation and the Free University of Berlin.

Goldberg’s work on statistical preemption helps dispel a competing theory: that the reason we don’t use phrases such as explain me is simply that we only use language in ways we have heard before. If this were the case, Goldberg said, we would never be creative with language.

“The verb sneeze has been heard a million times in a simple sentence such as, ‘She sneezed,’” Goldberg said. “But we can also think of new ways to use it, as in, ‘She sneezed the foam off the cappuccino.’ We clearly know how to use language creatively.”

–By Catherine Zandonella