Study shows how COVID-19 changed Americans’ values and activities

A new UCLA-led study decisively confirms findings of research published earlier this year, which found that American values, attitudes and activities had changed dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patricia Greenfield, a UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and senior author of both studies, said the results indicate that Americans’ activities, values and relationships have begun to resemble those found in small, isolated villages with low life expectancy — such as an isolated Mayan village in Chiapas, Mexico, that she has studied since 1969.

For example, according to the survey, people said that compared with pre-pandemic times, they are now more likely to be growing and preparing their own food, conserving resources, demonstrating less interest in financial wealth and showing greater appreciation for their elders. The researchers found all of those shifts are a function of Americans’ increased focus on survival and their isolation during the pandemic.

The study also found that during the pandemic parents expected their children to help out around the home — for example, by cooking for the family — more than they did before the pandemic.

Among the other findings:

  • Respondents reported that, as compared to before the pandemic, they were thinking substantially more during the pandemic about death and dying — including their own mortality and that of their family members, making wills and where they intended to be buried, for example.
  • People said they felt greater appreciation for their family and for elderly people during the pandemic than before.
  • While study participants said they were more focused than before on having enough money to cover basic needs like food and shelter, people were generally less focused on the goal of becoming rich.
  • Respondents reported an increase in the amount of time they spent on activities with other members of the household — shared meals and conversations.

The entire article can be found here.

The Hammer Channel at UCLA

On May 5, 2021, The Hammer Museum at UCLA launched a new website, Hammer Channel, offering more than a thousand conversations with artists, writers, filmmakers, scholars, scientists, activists and more. New programs will be added weekly as part of the Hammer’s decades-long commitment to presenting programs on topics ranging from politics and current events to literary readings to film screenings and artist talks.

Hammer Channel offers innovative tools to search, clip, and share not only the programs themselves but precise moments within. Support for Hammer Channel is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Organized much like a streaming service, Hammer Channel offers a wide variety of video content organized by categories including art, social justice, film, books, politics, the environment and more. Hammer Channel’s powerful search allows users not only to search by topic or title, but within transcripts of the videos themselves. A search for a person or topic will include results in which that term is discussed during a program — and will bring users to the very moment within that video when the term was used. Full transcripts are included with every video, allowing for greater accessibility and searchability. Additionally, Hammer Channel’s unique clipping tool allows users to create and share clips of their favorite moments within a program. Hammer Channel was developed in collaboration with digital agency Cogapp.

As part of the Mellon-funded project, the underlying source code and technical documentation is available on the open-source platform GitHub. The complexity and cost of developing digital tools and systems can be a major barrier for museums and other nonprofit organizations; by providing documentation of the Hammer Channel to open-source communities, other institutions worldwide may adopt, adapt, and advance their own initiatives.

The Hammer Museum has been broadcasting its programs online since 2014. As the global COVID-19 pandemic forced museums to close in 2020, the Hammer quickly shifted its programs fully online, presenting tours, conversations, screenings and more every week. Since April 2020, the Hammer has presented more than 140 programs online, viewed live by more than 45,000 people worldwide, plus tens of thousands more views after the fact. Hammer Channel offers a convenient and comprehensive site for viewers to experience the Hammer Museum’s variety of offerings, whether catching up with the most recent program or taking a deep dive into a particular subject.

Artists featured on Hammer Channel include Laurie Anderson, John Baldessari, Mark Bradford, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, rafa esparza, Charles Gaines, Theaster Gates, Lauren Halsey, Sarah Lucas, Catherine Opie, Charles Ray, Pedro Reyes, Ed Ruscha and Kara Walker. Past programs on topics such as the environment, immigration, anti-racism, and other current events include panelists such as Vice President Al Gore, Congressman Ted Lieu, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, Anita Hill, Ibram X. Kendi, Naomi Klein and others. Hammer Channel also includes conversations and readings by writers such as Joan Didion, Roxane Gay, Joy Harjo, Sadiya Hartman, Stan Lee, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Tara Westover. Conversations with Academy Award-winning actors and filmmakers include Bong Joon-Ho, Werner Herzog, Steve McQueen, Lupita Nyong’o, Jordan Peele, Quentin Tarantino, Olivia Wilde and more.

A Zap to the Brain to Help you Remember

Jesse Rissman, co-author of study
(Stuart Wolpert/UCLA Newsroom)

A small electrical zap to the brain could help you retrieve a forgotten memory 
By Stuart Wolpert
Posted on the UCLA Newsroom on May 30, 2019

A study by UCLA psychologists provides strong evidence that a certain region of the brain plays a critical role in memory recall. The research, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, also shows for the first time that using an electrical current to stimulate that region, the left rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, improves people’s ability to retrieve memories.

“We found dramatically improved memory performance when we increased the excitability of this region,” said Jesse Rissman, a UCLA assistant professor of psychology, and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, the study’s senior author.

The left rostrolateral prefrontal cortex is important for high-level thought, including monitoring and integrating information processed in other areas of the brain, Rissman said. This area is located behind the left side of the forehead, between the eyebrow and the hairline.

“We think this brain area is particularly important in accessing knowledge that you formed in the past and in making decisions about it,” said Rissman, who also is a member of the UCLA Brain Research Institute.

The psychologists conducted experiments with three groups of people whose average age was 20. Each group contained 13 women and 11 men.

Participants were shown a series of 80 words on a computer screen. For each word, participants were instructed to either imagine either themselves or another person interacting with the word, depending on whether the words “self” or “other” also appeared on the screen. (For example, the combination of “gold” and “other” might prompt them to imagine a friend with a gold necklace.)

The following day, the participants returned to the laboratory for three tests — one of their memory, one of their reasoning ability and one of their visual perception. Each participant wore a device that sent a weak electrical current through an electrode on the scalp to decrease or increase the excitability of neurons in the left rostrolateral prefrontal cortex. Increasing their excitability makes neurons more likely to fire, which enhances the connections between neurons, Rissman said.

(The technique, called transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, gives most people a warm, mild tingling sensation for the first few minutes, said the study’s lead author, Andrew Westphal, who conducted the study as a UCLA doctoral student and is now a postdoctoral scholar in neurology at UC San Francisco.)

For the first half of the hour-long study, all participants received “sham” stimulation — meaning that the device was turned on just briefly, to give the sensation that something was happening, but then turned off so that no electrical stimulation was applied. This allowed the researchers to measure how well each participant performed the tasks under normal conditions. For the next 30 minutes, one group of participants received an electrical current that increased their neurons’ excitability, the second group received current that suppressed neuron activity and the third group received only the sham stimulation. The researchers analyzed which group had the best recall of the words they saw the previous day.

First, the scientists noted that there were no differences among the three groups during the first half of the study — when no brain stimulation was used — so any differences in the second half of the experiment could be attributed to the stimulation, Westphal said.

Memory scores for the group whose neurons received excitatory stimulation during the second half of the study were 15.4 percentage points higher than their scores when they received the sham stimulation.

Scores for those who received fake stimulation during both sessions increased by only 2.6 percentage points from the first to the second session — a statistically insignificant change that was likely was due to their increased familiarity with the task, according to the paper. And scores for the group whose neuron activity was temporarily suppressed increased by just five percentage points, which the authors also wrote was not statistically significant.

“Our previous neuroimaging studies showed the left rostrolateral prefrontal cortex is highly engaged during memory retrieval,” Rissman said. “Now the fact that people do better on this memory task when we excite this region with electrical stimulation provides causal evidence that it contributes to the act of memory retrieval.

“We didn’t expect the application of weak electrical brain stimulation would magically make their memories perfect, but the fact that their performance increased as much as it did is surprising and it’s an encouraging sign that this method could potentially be used to boost people’s memories.”

The study’s reasoning task asked participants to decide in seven seconds whether certain pairs of words were analogies. Half of the trials featured word pairs that were true analogies, such as “‘moat’ is to ‘castle’ as ‘firewall’ is to ‘computer.’” (In both pairs, the first word protects the second from invasion.) The other half had word pairs that were related but not actually analogous.

Researchers found no significant differences in performance among the three groups.

For the final task, focusing on perception, subjects were asked to select which of four words has the most straight lines in its printed form. (One example: Among the words “symbol,” “museum,” “painter” and “energy,” the word “museum” has the most straight lines.) Again, the researchers found no significant differences among the three groups — which Rissman said was expected.

“We expected to find improvement in memory, and we did,” Rissman said. “We also predicted the reasoning task might improve with the increased excitability, and it did not. We didn’t think this brain region would be important for the perception task.”

Why do people forget names and other words? Sometimes it’s because they don’t pay attention when they first hear or see it, so no memory is even formed. In those cases, the electrical stimulation wouldn’t help. But in cases where a memory does form but is difficult to retrieve, the stimulation could help access it.

“The stimulation is helping people to access memories that they might otherwise have reported as forgotten,” Westphal said.

Although tDCS devices are commercially available, Rissman advises against anyone trying it outside of supervised research.

“The science is still in an early stage,” he said. “If you do this at home, you could stimulate your brain in a way that is unsafe, with too much current or for too long.”

Rissman said other areas of the brain also play important roles in retrieving memories. Their future research will aim to better understand the contributions of each region, as well as the effects of brain stimulation on other kinds of memory tasks.

Hammer Museum to help revitalize Westwood with artisanal pop-ups

Arts ReStore-logoThe UCLA Hammer Museum on Monday announced Arts ReSTORE LA: Westwood — an initiative aimed at trying to help revitalize Westwood Village by tapping into Los Angeles’ creative community by having local artisans and craftspeople open pop-up shops this November.
Fourteen projects, which include a maker of environmentally friendly skateboards, a variety of furniture, clothing and accessories designers and a letterpress print shop, have been selected to fill some of the empty storefronts throughout the struggling retail area.
In addition to the shopping options, there will be performances at Open Forum, which is an event space organized by the Hammer Student Association in collaboration with a host of other organizations, and dancers and choreographers from the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance.
Funding for the project comes from a $100,000 grant the Hammer won in May. The Goldhirsh Foundation awarded the grant as part of its LA2050 project, which asked organizations across the city to find solutions to the region’s toughest challenges. Hammer Director Ann Philbin saw the potential in the Goldhirsch Foundation’s LA2050 grant to make a meaningful impact in Westwood Village’s retail landscape and to help inspire local property owners to imagine a creative future for the Village. Arts ReSTORE LA: Westwood won the Arts & Cultural Vitality grant. The Hammer was one of 10 winners chosen from 279 entrants.
In the Hammer’s proposal, officials wrote that they would use the museum’s incredible network of local talent and expertise in arts and culture to curate the pop-up village. Westwood property owners have donated the space in the vacant spaces as part of the project, which will run from Nov. 1-24. A series of performances curated by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance will be part of Arts ReSTORE LA: Westwood.
“I think people want unique. They want authentic. They want original,” said Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association. “Chains have a place in our restaurant and retail environment, but I think what makes Westwood special is the number of mom-and-pop retailers that we have in our district. The Hammer is really one of the gems of our district. To have their backing on a program that I think would generate a lot of buzz and attention in our district is tremendous.”
Arts ReSTORE LA: Westwood hours will be Thursdays–Saturdays 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Video: 1948 mechanical computer at UCLA

This 1948 short film by Popular Science magazine screened in movie theaters before Paramount Pictures features. It shows a mechanical differential analyzer in use by UCLA engineering students and researchers.
“This amazing mechanical brain quickly solves mathematical problems that would require months by ordinary computing methods. The brain is becoming an invaluable aid in our aircraft capital — speeding engineering research and reducing time spent on flight tests. It is also available for solution of other industrial design problems.”