A Review of Political Science Research Design: University of California, Berkeley Joint Project on the Categorization of Trauma-based Findings by Jay-Miguel Fonticella (A22)

by tuftsigl
Jan 10

My previous courses in psychology and community health at Tufts University cultivated my interest in the social sciences research process. While ongoing research continues to develop our understanding of social phenomena, I have found myself questioning the consistency across published experiments. All around the world, academic institutions conduct investigations aimed to elucidate the effect of trauma on human behavior. However, I question if the foundational design of these experiments is comparable across studies. Do the researchers from all institutions define or measure trauma in a similar manner? If not, could the differences in the variable definitions, data measurements, or participant populations account for the variations in the findings among these studies?

I interned as a research assistant with Elizabeth Herman and Justine Davis at the University of California Berkeley on their project to categorize trauma exposure/response findings on political, social, psychological, or economic behaviors. At weekly meetings, I engaged in virtual discussions regarding publications in political science, psychology, and sociology. Through these conversations, I learned about cross-sectional data, quasi-experiments, and moderating variables. Subsequently, I applied these concepts to our research project, which involved coding articles based on their categorization as trauma exposure or trauma response investigations.

Trauma exposure is defined as an individual's direct or indirect exposure to violence, whereas trauma response is defined as an individual-level indicator capturing response to a trauma-related event. Among these related articles, we aimed to determine trends in outcomes between studies coded as trauma exposure vs. trauma response. Our initial findings suggested that trauma exposure articles showed positively correlated social-oriented outcomes, including intergroup trust and social networks. I also observed that trauma response articles commonly demonstrated negative associations with psychological outcomes, specifically PTSD and hostility. Taken together, the data obtained through this systematic review indicates that the research design and variable definitions impact the experimental findings, providing an explanation for the difference in trends among the related trauma, violence-based articles.

Alumna Biz Herman and colleague Justine Davis provided this remote internship.