Research Roundup: May 2022

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Wednesday, May 25, 2022
By AACSB Staff
New studies explore how to attract Gen Z students, inoculate society against “infodemics,” and cultivate greater employee compassion at work.

Is Higher Ed Ready for Gen Z?

Ten years ago, business schools were preparing to accommodate the needs of millennials. But today, it's all about the members of Generation Z, who are entering college in higher numbers. While enrollments in undergraduate programs have dropped 3.1 percent year-over-year, enrollments in graduate programs are up 4.9 percent since the start of the pandemic, with this growth largely driven by Gen Z’s interest in pursuing graduate education.

These are among the findings of a new report from marketing agency LaneTerralever and advisory firm Convince & Convert, both in the U.S. Based on a survey of 920 Americans who have expressed interest in pursuing postgraduate education, the report finds that higher education institutions “don’t yet have a game plan” to meet the expectations of Gen Z.

So, what factors are most important to Gen Z students? Here are a few that the survey highlighted:

  • Of Gen Z respondents, 45 percent prefer fully in-person instruction, compared to just 11 percent of millennials and 12 percent of Gen Xers.
  • Of this group, 47 percent will take less than three months to choose a graduate program.
  • Only 17 percent prioritize rankings when deciding where to apply and enroll (compared to 30 percent of millennials), and 49 percent say a school’s website is their most important source of information.
  • Additionally, 79 percent prioritize the school’s reputation, while 39 percent prioritize a school’s location and proximity to home.
  • Finally, 90 percent report that they will require financial assistance—more than past generations.

Gen Z students also have different reasons for pursuing graduate-level education than their predecessors. Forty-one percent cite career advancement as a primary motivation, which is higher than previous generations. Only 22 percent cite earning potential, which is lower than previous generations.

The report offers recommendations to b-school marketers interested in attracting Gen Z students. Its suggestions include going beyond rankings and traditional messaging and being more authentic in marketing communications. The report’s authors also advise higher education institutions to act as “self-service” knowledge resources for prospective students, in ways that help these students bridge the gap between what they think they want from postgraduate education and what they actually need.

Too Much Information Hinders Problem Solving

Just as the spread of COVID-19 threatened human health, the current spread of misinformation worldwide threatens global problem solving, say a group of researchers in the United Kingdom. In a recent study, they confirm the existence of what the World Health Organization calls an “infodemic”—a widespread overabundance of information, including false or misleading information.

Their paper, titled “In Search of Infodemics: U.S. Media Amplification and Risk,” will be featured at the upcoming annual conference of the Society for Risk Analysis. The co-authors include Cormac Bryce, senior lecturer in insurance at Bayes Business School at City, University of London; Michael M. Dowling, professor of finance at Dublin City University Business School; Cheng Long, a doctoral candidate at Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin; and Jamie Wardman, assistant professor of risk management at Nottingham University Business School.

The study builds on a framework first noted in the 1980s known as the “social amplification of risk.” This model highlights the ways that “individual, social, and cultural processes … either intensify or dampen” people’s perceptions of the danger and broader impact of known risks.

The spread of false information on social media platforms has worked to obscure the public’s understanding of not only the risks of COVID-19, but also the methods to mitigate those risks.

News coverage is just one process that amplifies people’s perception of risk. With that in mind, the researchers examined 271,854 news stories over the past two decades that explicitly mention risk. They found this news coverage typically focused on seven topics: health, business, environment, entertainment, domestic affairs, geopolitics, and technology.

When it comes to risk-related stories, what journalists consider newsworthy “can shift perceptions in response to changing public campaigns, seasons, technologies, and the environment,” the co-authors note. Social media has added a new dimension to information distribution. For instance, in the case of COVID-19, the spread of false information on social media platforms often works to obscure the public’s understanding of not only the risks of contracting the disease, but also the methods to mitigate those risks.

“COVID–19 displays infodemic properties never seen before,” the researchers note. “This may overwhelm people’s comprehension of the threat, along with their ability to ascertain trusted official health advice, if [the infodemic is] left ‘untreated.’”

The only way to inoculate against the negative impacts of an infodemic, the researchers argue, is to find ways to provide “a more credible and trustworthy source of risk communication in many nations than social media.” They suggest that future research should evaluate the effectiveness of different interventions at curbing the spread of misinformation.

Animals at Work Boost Employee Compassion

Allowing employees to bring their pets to work might be more than just a job perk—it also might inadvertently lead employees to be more compassionate with their co-workers, say a team of researchers in a study recently published in Personnel Psychology. And when employees show greater compassion, the research team concludes, they also can better understand and work with each other.

“Humans and animals often work together to achieve a certain goal. For example, police officers work with sniffer dogs to detect illegal drugs, and equine therapists work with horses to improve the physical and mental health of the rider,” says lead author Sam Yam Kai Chi in an article on the NUS website. “But not much is known about the impact of working with animals on employees.”

Yam, head of the department of management and organization at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, worked on this study with Pok Man Tang, a doctoral student at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University in College Station, and Carissa Lam, a research assistant at NUS. To discover the impact of animals on employee behavior, the team conducted three surveys. First, they surveyed 71 employees from the life sciences department at Mandai Wildlife Group in Singapore about their emotions and prosocial behavior. Next, they surveyed 121 employees at different organizations in Hong Kong who work with animals to provide services or entertainment. Finally, they asked 178 employees in the United States about their animal interaction and levels of compassion. In the third study, employees’ direct supervisors were also asked to report on employees’ prosocial behavior at work.

In all three studies, employees who had the most interactions with animals reported higher levels of compassion. Furthermore, the more they perceived the animals they worked with to be able to feel and think, the stronger their reported levels of compassion and prosocial behavior.

“Compassion means being aware of others’ suffering and having a desire to help,” says Yam. “Employees who work with animals are trained to constantly look out for animals’ nonverbal signs of discomfort. Interestingly, this animal-induced compassion spills over to make them more prosocial towards their colleagues, such as going the extra mile to help others.”

The co-authors admit that not all workplaces are conducive to animal interaction, but they believe that their findings should encourage organizations to consider feasible ways to bring animals to work, even if as part of standalone workshops designed to train employees to develop greater compassion. "With the right structure and rules in place to tackle practical considerations," Lam adds, "working with animals can be a novel way to cultivate compassion in employees.”

Tool Helps Firms Prepare for Severe Weather

As climate change causes more severe weather worldwide, business leaders are left to wonder how to prepare their organizations for unpredictable natural disasters. Two scholars have designed a new tool that they say will allow business leaders to gauge just how susceptible their organizations are to extreme weather events.

The free tool, in the form of an Excel document, was created by Venky Nagar, KPMG Professor of Accounting at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor, and Jordan Schoenfeld, a former doctoral student at Michigan Ross and current associate professor at the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business in Salt Lake City. Researchers and business leaders can look at the dataset to discover which companies have been especially affected by adverse weather events. Nagar and Schoenfeld outline their model in research forthcoming in the Review of Accounting Studies.

To compile their data, the pair analyzed the language of 101,352 annual reports issued from 1994 through 2019 from approximately 10,000 firms. They were especially interested in language associated with use of the word “weather,” especially in relation to terms such as “revenues” and “operating costs” or in phrases such as “adverse weather” and “weather patterns.”

They then tracked firm performance over the periods of severe weather described in the reports, which offered them insights into how companies measured their own exposure. “Although constructed from largely backward-looking mandated reports,” the two write, “our measure is forward looking in that it explains future returns of a firm when it is exposed to an extreme weather event.”

Nagar and Schoenfeld believe their tool, a link to which is included in an article on the Michigan Ross website, will help business leaders, investors, and policymakers more reliably measure the environmental risks organizations now face, Nagar explains in the article. Policymakers, he says, can “use our score as opposed to requiring companies to embark on some complicated process of creating new disclosures.”

Environmental Tech Is Being Overlooked

In another study focused on climate change, researchers in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex Business School in the U.K. have found that many promising environmental technologies are receiving little attention from funders. In their analysis of 2.268 billion USD in funding granted between 1990 and 2020, researchers found that projects receiving the most support were those involving climate change adaptation (36 percent), climate mitigation via energy systems (28 percent), transport and mobility (13 percent), geoengineering (12 percent,) and industrial decarbonization (11 percent).

Other technologies that could potentially have even greater impact—such as stratospheric aerosol injection, marine cloud brightening, cloud thinning, ocean mirrors, and albedo management—received only between 0 percent and 0.2 percent of the funding over the last 30 years. Interventions such as industrial decarbonization were funded at just one-third the rate of projects dedicated to climate change adaptation.

“Deepening understanding of the role of policies in achieving equitable, just, and inclusive transition to sustainability is vital for realizing climate change and decarbonization goals.” — Chux Daniels, University of Sussex

In addition, funding was unevenly distributed among countries. Between 1990 and 2020, nearly four-fifths of the funding went to projects in the United Kingdom (40 percent), European Union (27 percent) and United States (11 percent). Projects in China, India, Israel, and Japan received very little funding; those in developing regions such as Latin America and Africa received almost none at all, even though these regions are expected to be disproportionately affected by climate change. Such inequitable distribution of funding “is a significant failing to support a truly global response to the world’s greatest challenge,” says Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy for SPRU.

Many disciplines that could play larger roles in fighting climate change are also being overlooked. These include religious studies, which could promote values such as altruism and frugality that support sustainability; neuroscience, which could shed light on how to encourage people to adopt behavioral changes; and food science and technology, which could develop ways to reduce the energy and water required for the world’s food production.

“Deepening understanding of the role of policies in achieving equitable, just, and inclusive transition to sustainability is vital for realizing climate change and decarbonization goals,” says Chux Daniels, research fellow in science, technology, and innovation policy at SPRU. “The transformative innovation policy approach offers useful ideas on technology and innovation-driven development strategies for addressing climate change and decarbonization.”

The study was recently published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

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