Press releases

 

Oct 12 2015
14:14

Social researchers in Frankfurt present study results – Publication in new issue of "American Journal of Sociology”

Women: A longer break from work leads to less interest in a career

FRANKFURT. Family policy influences not only families’ economic behaviour, but also sends out clear normative signals on which people base their individual life plans: The longer a mother takes a break from work after the birth of a child, the more she loses interest in her own career: Professor Markus Gangl and Dr. Andrea Ziefle, sociologists at Goethe University in Frankfurt, are now able to prove this empirically. Their article entitled “The Making of a Good Woman: Extended Parental Leave Entitlements and Mothers’ Work Commitment in Germany” has just appeared in the internationally renowned “American Journal of Sociology” (121 (2)).

It was already becoming evident in international research that short periods of parental leave of up to one or one-and-a half years, such as are common in Scandinavia, lead to better integration of mothers in the employment market. This is clearly contrary to experience in Anglo-Saxon countries, where family is primarily a private issue. The longer parental leave is made possible by legislation, the more the disadvantages of this leave are of consequence. “Research to date considered the reason for this rather to be the behaviour of employers who tend to entrust mothers who have been absent for longer periods less frequently with demanding jobs or important tasks”, says Gangl and continues: “We call this ‘statistical discrimination’.” The two sociologists are, however, now able to show that this is not the only reason for the negative impact of longer parental leave. “The subjective attitude of mothers towards employment decreases considerably over the course of time. That means, through the longer break from work these women increasingly lose interest in working on their own professional perspectives”, says Ziefle.

In order to verify this statement, the two social researchers used the survey data - unique worldwide - of the Socio-Economic Panel. Incidentally, this empirical social research instrument, which was developed over 30 years ago at Goethe University in close cooperation with colleagues in Mannheim, has been used annually since 1984 – it is now in its 30th year - to interview representatively selected persons and households in Germany with regard to their income and living conditions. In their study, the researchers examined closely the answers which women had given regarding their subjective attitude to employment at various points in time: How did women’s attitude change after parental leave in Germany was extended in 1992 from 18 months to three years? Asked about their attitude to work after a longer period of parental leave, the mothers replied that gainful employment was no longer so important to them and that the family ranked first instead.

At that time, incidentally, almost 50 percent of the mothers had not worked prior to the child’s birth. Today it is only one third. “And in the 1990s it was possible to observe even amongst those housewives who were not gainfully employed that entering a profession became less and less an issue the longer the new law applied”, says Gangl and interprets this as an “effect of habituation to the new political environment”. Not only social awareness has slowly but constantly changed since the 1990s, but also the legal framework, such as greater involvement of fathers in parental leave as well as divorce legislation.

What relevance do the results of this retrospective study have for the situation today? “The study shows for the first time: Family policy not only has an influence on families’ economic behaviour. It is also the normative signals which are sent out and evidently subconsciously influence individual life plans”, explains Gangl. The researchers are not stopping at this retrospective analysis: “From another study, which we published last year, we know that mothers have gone back to work sooner as a result of the new family allowance”, says Andrea Ziefle. “We are working now on finding out whether the new family policy of recent years is also reflected in the subjective attitudes of fathers and mothers.”

Publication: Gangl, Markus, and Andrea Ziefle. 2015. The Making of a Good Woman: Extended Parental Leave Entitlements and Mothers’ Work Commitment in Germany. American Journal of Sociology 121 (2).

Information: Prof. Dr. Markus Gangl, Dr. Andrea Ziefle, Faculty of Social Sciences, Campus Westend, Tel: +49(0)69 798-36633, E-Mail mgangl@soz.uni-frankfurt.de or aziefle@soz.uni-frankfurt.de

 

Oct 8 2015
10:41

The C. elegans feeding apparatus is a model for genetic arrhythmia.

Studying cardiac arrhythmias in nematodes

FRANKFURT. Researchers at the Goethe University have developed a simple model using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans that can be used to test substances for treating genetically-mediated cardiac arrhythmias. They used the nematode feeding apparatus for this purpose, a rhythmically active muscle pump that resembles the muscle cells in the mammalian heart. This could be an important step on the road to personalised treatment.

Cardiac arrhythmias often have genetic causes. The same mutation is often detected in patients with the same type of arrhythmia. However, it is not clear from the outset whether other mutations in the same gene have the same effects. The effects of the arrhythmia could also differ depending on the type of mutation. This knowledge could definitely be significant for treatment. This is because a type of medication that works particularly well for a specific mutation could be less beneficial for other mutations. Researchers have long been searching for a simple model that can be used to create certain genetic defects and in which the efficacy of substances can be tested.

The research group, led by Alexander Gottschalk at the Institute of Biochemistry and the Buchmann Institute at the Goethe University, used the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans because it is easy to modify it genetically. The nematode feeding apparatus uses ion channels similar to those in muscle cells of the mammalian heart. Ion channels play an important role in regulating cardiac muscle excitation, and mutations in their genes often lead to arrhythmias.

The researchers used optogenetic techniques, since the feeding apparatus, i.e. the pharynx, does not naturally pump as regularly as required in order to recognise arrhythmias. They introduced photo-activated ion channels into the muscle cells using a genetic approach. In this way, the apparatus can be transformed into a light-activated muscle pump with highly regular action. They then introduced various ion channel mutations, which are responsible for the so-called Timothy syndrome (LQT8) in humans. In practice, the mutated pharynx then demonstrated aberrant pump behaviour.

"We were able to improve or reverse these arrythmic effects using a substance that is already known to be pharmacologically active, and which is administered to patients with Timothy syndrome in a modified form", explains Prof Alexander Gottschalk. The goal is to use the worm to search for new active substances for other types of arrhythmia. These could even potentially be patient-specific if the exact mutation is transferred to the worm. The ease of genetic mutability of the nematode is highly advantageous in this regard when compared to a mouse model, which would be very difficult to generate. In order to facilitate the search for new medications, the researchers also developed a new optical method with which several animals can be analysed in parallel.

Publication: C. Schüler, E. Fischer, L. Shaltiel, W. Steuer Costa, A. Gottschalk. (2015) Arrhythmogenic effects of mutated L-type Ca2+-channels on an optogenetically paced muscular pump in Caenorhabditis elegans. Scientific Reports 5: 14427.

DOI: 10.1038/srep14427

Informationen: Prof. Alexander Gottschalk, Institut für Biochemie, Campus Riedberg, Tel.: (069) 798-42518, a.gottschalk@em.uni-frankfurt.de. 

An image is available for download at: www.uni-frankfurt.de/58253225

Image text: The feeding apparatus (pharynx) of an optogentically modified nematode can reliably follow various "commando" frequencies (blue text). The control shows the reaction in a healthy worm. Below, a "sick" worm with a defective calcium channel that pumps irregularly at high frequencies.

 

Sep 22 2015
09:46

Business Ethics Professor Minnameier: Code of ethics not very helpful / Misconduct among bankers is more of a structural than a moral problem

Catching the "black sheep" among bankers

FRANKFURT. Unethical conduct by employees of financial institutions can usually be traced back to improper incentives in the internal corporate structure, according to Gerhard Minnameier, Professor for Business Ethics and Business Education at the Goethe University Frankfurt, interviewed in the latest edition of the Faculty of Economics newsletter. "If one looks at the high-profile fraud cases, then the internal rules were formally contravened, but informally virtually everyone did it like that." At an informal level it may be unclear to the individual which rules actually apply. Since employees are always striving for recognition, their behaviour ultimately depends on what companies recognise:
A hard-earned position in a competitive hierarchy or contributions to the company's success.

In order to change the behaviour of the employees, companies have to create a culture which is based on a collaborative approach for the benefit of the company, according to Minnameier. In addition to selecting suitable employees, the key thing in this regard is to create structures which promote a sense of teamwork and which ensure that individuals do not exploit the cooperative nature of their colleagues. "We are familiar with this problem from game theory or the prisoner's dilemma: if some people behave in a cooperative manner but no mechanisms are in place to protect them, then it can be advantageous for others not to cooperate", Minnameier explains. So an employer who wants to create a collaborative environment also has to ensure that "black sheep" stand out and/or don't have any incentives to corrupt the morals of the rest.

On the other hand, according to Minnameier, establishing a code of ethics which doesn't reflect the factual, actual criteria used to evaluate the actions of the individual is not very productive. At best, such a code of ethics could serve to remind the employees of the moral principles. However, the effect does not tend to last very long and it cannot be repeated endlessly.

The complete interview is available for download at: http://bit.ly/1KkUZWR

Further information:
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Minnameier, minnameier@econ.uni-frankfurt.de, Tel: 069 798 34688

 

Sep 17 2015
13:15

Women are more cooperative during and shortly after "that time of the month"

Do oestrogen levels affect the willingness to share?

FRANKFURT. Fluctuating hormone levels change a woman's social behaviour over the course of the menstrual cycle. Mood swings and irritability before the period as well as a greater interest in sex during ovulation are well known. Now psychologists at the Goethe University have discovered that the willingness to share one's own resources with strangers also fluctuates with hormone levels. Women exhibit a higher willingness to cooperate during and shortly after menstruation - this is the result of two online studies involving over 400 German and US American women.

To qualify for the study, the participants had to have a natural menstrual cycle, in other words not be using hormone-based contraceptives, had to not be pregnant and not have entered menopause yet. The researchers compared the willingness to cooperate between women in the time during and shortly after menstruation (early follicular phase), when the levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone are low, and a few days after ovulation (midluteal phase), when the oestrogen and progesterone levels are especially high. The hormone levels were estimated based on the self-reported day in the cycle.

The researchers measured the subjects' individual willingness to cooperate using a well-established psychological scale, the "Social Value Orientation". To do so, they asked the women to divide fictitious money between themselves and another person who was a complete stranger to them.

"Numerous studies have shown that people who exhibit a high willingness to share in this test also donate money more often and in larger amounts in real life, take the train instead of the car to work more often and are more willing to compromise in negotiations than people with a less pronounced pro-social value orientation", Christine Anderl, lead author of the study, explains.

The two studies showed that the women were significantly more inclined to share their own resources with a stranger during and shortly after menstruation than they were a few days after ovulation.

The greater the cycle-dependent level of the "female" sex hormone oestrogen, the lower the willingness to share of the women on a purely statistical basis. "While we are firmly convinced that the variation in the willingness to share over the course of the cycle is a real and systematic effect, we still have to determine whether or not it is really caused by oestrogen as the present data suggest", Christine Anderl tells us.

"This matches the findings of other research groups, who were able to show that hormones such as oxytocin and the "male" sex hormone testosterone affect the willingness to cooperate in humans", Prof. Sabine Windmann from the Institute for Experimental Psychology 2 at the Goethe University commented. How strongly the cycle-dependent fluctuations in the willingness to cooperate affect the day-to-day life of women and which areas of life are particularly affected by this will have to be researched in further studies.

However, the researchers have already found initial evidence which suggests that the described effects also occur when the subjects are using real money. These results are also interesting in light of hormonal contraception. Little is currently known about how synthetic hormones act on the receptors in the brain and what effect they have on the behaviour of women.

Publikation:
Anderl, C., Hahn, T., Notebaert, K., Klotz, C., Rutter, B., & Windmann, S. (2015). Cooperative preferences fluctuate across the menstrual cycle. Judgment and Decision Making, 10(5), 400–406.

http://journal.sjdm.org/15/15701/jdm15701.pdf
http://journal.sjdm.org/15/15701/jdm15701.html

Informationen:
Christine Anderl, Institut für Allgemeine Psychologie 1, Campus Westend, Tel.: (069) 798- 35315, anderl@psych.uni-frankfurt.de

 

Sep 17 2015
13:12

Civilians clearly stayed behind after the Roman military left

Frankfurt archaeologists discover "Roman Village" in Gernsheim

FRANKFURT/GERNSHEIM. During their first Gernsheim dig last year, Frankfurt University archaeologists suspected that a small Roman settlement must have also existed here in the Hessian Ried. Now they have discovered clear relics of a Roman village, built in part on the foundations of the fort after the soldiers left. This probably occurred around 120 AD. At the time the cohort (about 500 soldiers) was transferred from the Rhine to the Limes, and a period of peace lasting until about 260 AD began for the Roman village (which was part of the Roman province of Germania Superior) with the "Pax Romana".

Until a year ago, little was known about Roman Gernsheim even though Roman finds have repeatedly been made here since the 19th century. "We now know that from the 1st to the 3rd century an important village-like settlement or 'vicus' must have existed here, comparable to similar villages already proven to have existed in Groß-Gerau, Dieburg or Ladenburg", explains dig leader Dr. Thomas Maurer from the Goethe University, who has been going from Frankfurt to Southern Hesse for years in search of traces. He has published his findings in a major journal about the North Hessian Ried during the Roman imperial period.

During the second excavation campaign running from 3 August to early October, the 20 students of the "Archaeology and History of the Roman Provinces" course under the direction of Maurer have already uncovered the well-preserved foundation of a stone building, fire pits, at least two wells and some cellar pits. They also filled boxes with shards of fine, coarse and transport ceramics, which will undergo scientific examination in order to allow more accurate dating of the fort and the village. "We've also found real treasures such as rare garment clasps, several pearls, parts of a board game (dice, playing pieces) and a hairpin made from bone and crowned with a female bust", explains a delighted Maurer.

The people who settled in the village around the fort were primarily family members of the soldiers and tradespeople who benefited from the purchasing power of the military. "A temporary downturn probably resulted when the troops left – this is something we know from sites which have been studied more thoroughly", Maurer adds. However, stone buildings were already erected in the "Gernsheim Roman village" during the 2nd century, which suggests that the settlement was prospering. The population probably had mainly Gallic-Germanic origins, with perhaps a few "true" Romans – persons with Roman citizenship who moved here from faraway provinces. This is illustrated by specific archaeological finds; most notably pieces of traditional dress but also coins. One of the historic finds from Gernsheim is a coin from Bithynia (Northwest Anatolia), which was certainly not among the coins in circulation in Germania Superior but would instead have been a form of souvenir.

A troop unit with about 500 soldiers (cohort) was stationed in this area between 70/80 and 110/120 AD. Evidence of two V-shaped ditches typical of this kind of fort as well as other finds dating from the time after the fort was abandoned have been discovered here over the past year. An unusually large number of finds have been made. This is because when the Romans left they dismantled the fort and filled in the ditches. A lot of waste was disposed of in the process, especially in the inner ditch. "A stroke of luck for us," comments Prof. Dr. Hans-Markus von Kaenel from the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Goethe University, who has been retired since 2014. Together with his colleagues and students, von Kaenel studied the Roman Southern Hesse for almost 20 years, carrying out surveys and digs as well as preparing and evaluating material. The results have been published in over 50 papers.

The fort with the settlement was erected in order to take possession of large areas to the east of the Rhine around the seventh decade of the 1st century AD, and to expand the traffic infrastructure from and to the centre Mainz-Mogontiacum. The significance of Gernsheim am Rhein during Roman times is supported by its easily accessible location, with a road to Mainlimes branching from the main Mainz – Ladenburg – Augsburg road. A Rhine harbour is suspected to exist as well, but this couldn't be confirmed during the course of this dig – "and that wasn't really expected from this particular site", Maurer says. The continued expansion of Gernsheim throughout the 20th century threatened to obliterate the archaeological traces more and more. In August of this past year, the first educational dig of the Institute for Archaeology at Goethe University began here on one of the few as yet undeveloped properties, a double lot at Nibelungenstraße 10-12.

During this year's excavation campaign, covering an area of 600 square meters on the property and thus twice as large as last year, the 20 students ensured that the soil was carefully removed, findings surveyed and documented, and objects recovered and packaged carefully. The work has been supported by the Frankfurt archaeologists from the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Hessen (hessenARCHÄOLOGIE, Darmstadt branch) as well as the Cultural and History Association of Schöfferstadt Gernsheim. Some members of this association, which also operates the Heimatmuseum, provide help and advice to the dig team on a daily basis. The documentation and finds from this excavation campaign form the basis for further scientific work, including in the form of university theses, which will be completed at the Goethe University in the near future.

Information: Dr. Thomas Maurer, Institute for Archaeological Sciences, Campus Westend, Phone: 0177-5672114, t.maurer@em.uni-frankfurt.de

Fotos und Bildtexte zum Download unter: www.uni-frankfurt.de/58104336