The sixth theme of the Global Research Forum, ‘Methods, Applications, and Empirical Surveys’, featured research by Associate Professor Cynthia Siew (NUS Psychology), Professor Kenneth Dean (NUS Chinese Studies and Asia Research Institute), Associate Professor Elaine Ho (NUS Geography), and Associate Professor Zhong Songfa (NUS Economics).
Assoc Prof Siew presented on ‘Leveraging on Network Analysis to Uncover Mental Lexicon Structure: Applications for Language Research’. She explained that the mental lexicon is the part of long term memory that stores the words and concepts that one has learned during their lifetime. Assoc Prof Siew also pointed out that network science is useful for representing and studying mental structures, because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. She added that the underlying structure of cognitive networks affects how we process and learn information.
Network science is a set of tools to model complex systems. One type of network is a social network of people and their connections; another is the internet, with connections between people who can communicate with each other. Assoc Prof Siew discussed research on the global structure of language networks and local structure of language networks in particular. Phonographic and orthographic networks of the word, ‘cat’, for example, can be combined to reveal complex sound-letter relationships. Furthermore, the underlying structure of cognitive networks affects how people process and learn information. Her studies on language processing reveal how the structure of the phonological-orthographic lexicon affects word recognition, with more recognizable words having more nodes or connections in a network.
Assoc Prof Siew also talked about research in this area on early language development, where models are made of the structure of the linguistic input that young learners are being exposed to, and the words that they pick out from that structure. This research also uses network structures of the linguistic environment and the learner’s head to predict the words they will learn next. She also discussed how, in second language learning, network analysis of phonological association networks reveals that the phonological lexicon for the second language is less efficiently connected. Assoc Prof Siew additionally explained how lexicon structure predicts picture naming error patterns among aphasia sufferers. She then discussed her current research on conceptual representations of learners’ understanding of academic domains at different stages of learning. These project demonstrate how the underlying structure of cognitive networks affects the way we process and learn information.
Prof Dean presented on ‘Singapore Studies and the Digital Humanities (DH)’. He shared his project on Chinese epigraphy from 1819-1911, which was recently published in two volumes. Prof Dean explained how historical epigraphy in the region is a useful method of reconstructing the biography of early Chinese clans. He pointed out that TEI (Text Encoding Initiative), which he used in the research, is easily convertible to other formats like HTML, enables a searchable version of the text and provides metadata for massive elicitation of the material. The research team found over 48,000 individuals and 10,200 organizations active in the period of study, which they extracted from their second TEI draft using Python programming. The researchers used network visualization to illustrate links between individuals, groups, and institutions, such as which organizations various people and groups were contributing to.
Prof Dean also talked about how his research uses GIS for historical analysis. His project on the ritual alliances of the Putian Plain allowed, among other things, the evolution of the area’s irrigation system to be reconstructed and visualized. His project on human movement from Putian to Southeast Asia focused on different religious migration networks, including those that expanded into Singapore. The related Singapore Historical GIS study features a map of the country that includes 800 Chinese temples, 200 Chinese associations, 500 churches, 100 mosques, 30 Indian temples, locations of 200 former kampong villages and 180 former cemeteries, and 500 Chinese schools.
The Singapore Biographical Database, Prof Dean explained, employed coding to build and display a historical social network of Singapore Chinese personalities. It contains data that includes information from thousands of biographies, donor names, company names, boat owner names, and epigraphs. Prof Dean also touched on his current projects on Singapore’s Chinese temples and communal associations and Qing dynasty tomb inscriptions. This research is also being expanded into Malaysia. Prof Dean emphasized that analysis of inscriptions can be used to show how the Chinese diaspora expanded.
Assoc Prof Ho presented on ‘Shared Spaces and “Throwntogetherness” in Later Life: A Qualitative GIS Study of Non-migrant and Migrant Older Adults in Singapore’. Her talk focused on older adults’ experiences of intercultural relations in Singapore, given the demographic changes stemming from aging and new immigration. She examined micro-publics (semi-public spaces that are open to the public but have a private character) shared by Singaporean citizens (non-migrants) and grandparenting migrants from China (temporary migrants). Assoc Prof Ho stressed that non-migrant and migrant encounters in public space should be analyzed in conjunction to better understand how aging-in-place and aging-across-borders shape each other.
The study is informed by research on encounters, conviviality, and public space that look at how different social constructs manifest as people manage cultural differences when they share spaces. Assoc Prof Ho noted that this research is limited to situations where there is co-location in space and time, and that it is necessary to examine co-location’s distinct qualities and different permutations as these can lead to varying social outcomes. The study brought together GIS analyses and approaches with people’s subjective experiences of inhabiting shared spaces through qualitative research.
Fieldwork took place in the Greater Jurong region, a residential estate where aging and new immigration are visible. The researchers found that immigrants from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would ask their parents to come to Singapore to help with childcare. These older adults would be staying in the country for approximately one to three months on social visit or tourist visas, and would engage in childcare and leisure activities alongside elderly Singaporeans. The researchers used GPS tracking to identify the shared spaces of these two groups of seniors.
The fieldwork was carried out in four stages, starting with semi-structured opening interviews, followed by one-day go-along interviews, seven day GPS tracking of interviewees, and concluding interviews. GPS was then employed to identify the shared spaces the participants frequented, with the three most popular areas chosen for follow-on ethnographic fieldwork. In addition, the researchers generated space-time path maps, which are GIS visualizations depicting a person’s daily movement in space and time. Furthermore, ‘Global intimate’ maps were produced with visual and textual data to illustrate how global migration intersects with local experiences of aging and the social complexities undergirding the study sites.
The following questions were addressed through analyzing three types of shared spaces, asynchronous encounters in a mixed services space; informal, spontaneous encounters in a public park; and formal, organized encounters in a community club:
1. What types of spaces are shared between migrant and non-migrant seniors and why?
2. To what extent do these spaces foster interactions between the two groups and why?
3. How do these interactions (or lack of) inform their respective experiences of aging-in-place or aging-across-borders?
Assoc Prof Ho explained how the three shared spaces, a mixed services center, public parks, and a Silver Catwalk activity at a community club, demonstrate how place-making diverges or converges for non-migrant and migrant seniors through social mixing (or the lack of). At a mixed services center, Singaporean seniors can receive information that facilitates their participation in activities. However, PRC seniors are not privy to this information and end up feeling excluded from social mixing; their encounters are thus asynchronous despite using the same space. In public parks, Singaporean and PRC seniors are able to interact because they have common interests in being there and some Singaporean seniors can converse in Mandarin. Their relations are spontaneously convivial and informal, but they cannot form deep bonds in this space. Finally, while there some constraints for PRC seniors to interact with Singaporean seniors at a Community club’s Silver Catwalk activity, there are also opportunities, enabling the fostering of shared goals. Assoc Prof Ho emphasizes that through this higher degree of social mixing, a mutually enriching relationship develops and positively transforms how both migrant and non-migrant seniors experience ageing.
Assoc Prof Ho discussed how the integration of GIS analyses, GPS tracking, ethnographic observations, interviews, and other visual methods benefited the study. The multiple forms of data provided a fuller perspective on seniors’ life-worlds. Moreover, grounded visualizations, such as maps and photo collages, which illustrate actual routes and spaces, and the embodied and emotional dimensions of shared spaces were developed. The incorporation of computational and qualitative social science research methods also contributed to some of the study’s theoretical insights. Assoc Prof Ho noted that the research identified productive intersections between ageing, migration, and public space. She stressed that as migration changes people’s neighborhoods, neglecting to address how seniors negotiate social difference, or experience a lack of opportunities to do so, creates a gap in knowledge of how ageing and space are constructed together.
Assoc Prof Zhong presented on ‘Individualism-collectivism and Risk Perception around the World’, a collaborative study with his student Wu Ziye. He talked about how we have different perceptions of risk, for example on the pandemic, the climate emergency, and the implications of artificial intelligence. Consequences of these different perceptions could be disagreements, polarization, and conflicts. The study explored the idea of a cultural explanation of risk perception around the world, which could be situated on an individualism-collectivism continuum, looking at the extent to which people focus on their internal attributes and differentiate themselves from others.
Assoc Prof Zhong explained that a social group provides a sense of mutual insurance for its neighbors, and when people are more pessimistic in how they perceive risk, they can possess a greater need for this insurance. This then gives rise to a more collectivistic culture. This links a pessimistic attitude toward risks as contributing to collectivism. On the other hand, when people in a collectivistic culture get protection from their social group, it gives them some form of mutual insurance. They can in this way gain a greater sense of optimism in how they perceive risk.
Assoc Prof Zhong pointed out that this study is the first to examine the relationship between the individualism-collectivism continuum and risk perception around the world. The study data came from the 2019 Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, which covered 150,000 participants in 142 countries and territories. It identified seven domains of daily risks: food, water, violent crime, severe weather events, electrical power lines, household appliances, and mental health.
Three types of questions related to risk perception were included in the study. The first, ‘How likely do you think it is that each of the following things could cause you serious harm in the next two years?’, focused on our perceived likelihood of risk, which taps into our cognitive judgment. The second, ‘In general, how worried are you that each of the following things could cause you serious harm?’, examines our emotional reaction to risk. The third, ‘Have you or someone you personally know, experienced serious harm from any of the following things in the past two years?’.
Assoc Prof Zhong explained how contemporary and historical individualism were incorporated into the study on global risk perception. Contemporary individualism looks at the degree we focus on our own attributes and abilities, and the strength of family ties (according to the World Values Survey). Historical individualism looks at kinship tightness, which is the extent to which individuals in pre-industrial societies were embedded in interconnected family networks, and which involves family structure and descent systems.
The study produced world maps of risk perception that illustrate multiple cultural differences (and similarities) in how a variety of societies perceive risk. The researchers also performed regression analysis on the data using linear regressions. They employed bio-geographic control variables (such as distance to equator, average precipitation, suitability of agriculture), demographic control variables (such as gender ratio, average age, average years of schooling), and economic, institutional, and religious control variables (such as GDP, level of democracy, percentage of various religious groups). The researchers found that people from countries with a higher degree of contemporary individualism exhibit lower perceived likelihood and worry of risk. They also found that although there was a similar but weaker correlation between perceived likelihood of risk and being from a country with a greater degree of historical individualism, there was no correlation with worry of risk (supporting the idea that collectivism can increase optimistic attitudes toward risk). Assoc Prof Zhong noted that the findings contribute to clearer understanding of social and cultural differences in behavioral traits around the world.
Watch the video from Theme 6: ‘Methods, Applications, and Empirical Surveys’ here.
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