Inquiring Minds
by David Brooks
Illustrations by Chris MacNeil

In this issue:

Sea Change
Field Test
Feeling Smart

Sea Change

A black sea bass hostess would never have to worry about the male-female mix at her underwater dinner table. Too many females? No problem! They'll just turn into males.

"The fact that black sea bass change sex is very interesting," says David Berlinsky '81G, assistant professor of zoology, using a bit of understatement. How interesting? This species seems to switch from female to male depending on how many males are present.

Berlinsky's lab raised bass in tanks joined by a recirculating water system. Chemical signals released in one tank would be felt by all. Yet in tanks where the population was one-third or one-half male, there was no sex changing, while in tanks that started all female, about one-quarter of the fish changed from female to male. Berlinsky theorizes it's a visual cue, probably the males' bright blue heads.

There are obvious evolutionary benefits for a species that adjusts its sex ratio depending on circumstances, which is probably why many fish can do it. For commercial aquaculture, however, it's just one more worry. "With flounder, aquaculture farmers would like more females—females grow faster—but all they've been able to do is make more males," says Berlinsky. Black sea bass, on the other hand, are all born female. If they live long enough, they all turn into males, and as a result, fish farmers have to keep acquiring females from the wild for reproduction.

Understanding, slowing or eliminating the sex change is one of the goals of Berlinsky's research. Other variables under study are size, age and social cues.

Berlinsky has been working with black sea bass, a prized fish that is caught commercially and recreationally from Cape Cod to Florida, for the past half-dozen years. He says there is a lot of interest in figuring out how to raise the fish in commercially viable numbers.

Aquaculture is drawing interest both as a food resource and as a way to build dwindling fish stocks. It has also become an important area of research at UNH.

Progress has been made on the basic parameters for aquaculture, Berlinsky says, but other areas that still need study are improving larval survival, creating species-specific diets and improving spawning efficiency.

There are few private investors interested in funding research on the aquaculture of up-and-coming species, so public funding is still essential, he notes. And he says that UNH is lucky to be able to collaborate with one of the few marine finfish hatcheries on the East Coast, GreatBay Aquaculture, founded by George Nardi '80 and Chris Duffy '80, '88G.

When you think about it, Berlinsky says, agriculture on land had its Green Revolution; now, he says, the "Blue Revolution" offers a similar promise for aquaculture.

Field Test

If there's one thing that the research by Bob Barcelona and Jason Bocarro shows, it's that fun-and-games isn't all fun and games. In their ongoing research on public recreation in New Hampshire, Barcelona says societal issues keep coming up.

"I tell my students this is a part of public administration. Increasingly, recreation space is being used as an intervention tool for issues like obesity or youth crime," he says.

Barcelona and Bocarro are UNH assistant professors of Recreation Management and Policy. The department has a long-running partnership with the state Office of Energy and Planning and the Division of Parks and Recreation. When the state made a small grant available to take a broad-based look at current trends in outdoor recreation, Barcelona jumped on it.

"We spent the better half of last year working on it—doing focus groups, interviewing recreation leaders, making a statewide survey," he says.

The state was interested in the number of playing fields, the list of recreational needs and the size of budgets. In general, Barcelona found, recreation spending is usually 1 to 2 percent of a town's operating expenses. For academic purposes, though, the interesting part is where the data leads.

The study reached conclusions that will be no surprise to anybody who reads local papers: Youth sports are the biggest force lobbying for public recreation; there is tension between motorized and non-motorized recreation; and most of all, there aren't nearly enough playing fields. "The trends we saw in the study are mirrored nationwide," he says. "I'm not sure if more kids are participating in outdoor sports, but the kids who are participating are participating more often. In New Hampshire there's a real trend toward lacrosse. And with the addition of multiple-season sports, there is a huge demand for space."

Another societal issue that came up was access to water. "The privatization of land around lakes has led to a big concern about access to public beaches, boat launches and places for non-motorized recreation," says Barcelona.

The study also found some surprises. The one with the most significance for planning is the increasing alignment between two groups that have long been at odds: Those who want outdoor space for things like soccer or tennis, which Barcelona calls "built recreation," and those who want it largely left alone for things like bird-watching or hiking—so-called "passive recreation."

"We expected there to be conflict, and in some cases there was, but there was a lot of commonality. We found recreation folks sitting on conservation boards, and vice versa," he says. "These groups are working together, or at least expressing similar concerns, and looking at strategies for funding," he says. "They're saying if that's what it takes to prevent Home Depot or Wal-Mart from buying land and knocking trees down, they're in support of that."

Helping these groups work together could be a key to finding more recreation space without stepping on New Hampshire's tradition of frugality. If this research provides a boost for such cooperation, Barcelona will be happy. "New Hampshire has great recreation delivery systems, and does a great job with very, very little," he says.

Feeling Smart

When you're discussing "touchy-feely" social concepts with not-touchy and definitely not-feely business executives, it helps to have something concrete to fall back on. Like, say, money.

"If you promote or hire people with emotional intelligence, or help develop the emotional intelligence of employees, it improves the bottom line," says UNH associate professor of management Vanessa Druskat. "It's hard to ignore those numbers."

As a facilitator and researcher, Druskat has studied group dynamics for more than 20 years, so when the concept of emotional intelligence rose to prominence, thanks partly to the pioneering work of UNH professor of psychology Jack Mayer, it struck a chord.

Roughly, emotional intelligence is to feeling what IQ is to thinking—a way to measure and understand a basic component of our nature. In research and application, it mixes common sense ("There's no 'I' in 'team'") and academic rigor (psychometric modeling, chi-squared tests).

Druskat is currently looking at cross-functional product development teams at the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. "We've found that the biggest predictor of success of these drug-development teams is group emotional intelligence. Teams, when they're at their very best, interact, share everything they've got, and work together to come up with new ideas. We've long known that what's beneath that cooperation is trust, but what's beneath trust?" Druskat and colleague Steven Wolff of Marist College argue that it's emotion. "Improving group emotional intelligence can lead to better teams," she says.

"In the best teams you lose that sense of 'I need to stand out' because the team is such an exciting place to be—and that's an emotional thing," she says. "How do you create an environment so people are centered on the work and not the self? There are simple behaviors that can create that."

Druskat has co-edited a book called Linking Emotional Intelligence and Performance at Work: Current Research Evidence with Individuals and Groups. It includes research articles that establish strong links between emotional intelligence and work performance.

"Emotion is at the center of every interaction, so wouldn't it be beneficial to be intelligent about what emotion I'm feeling, and the other person is feeling, and use that information to create a more constructive interaction?" she asks.

Even in the meritocracy of research, where intellectual ability is the currency of choice, emotional intelligence makes a difference, says Druskat. "In science, IQ gets you the job, but once you get into the job, what sets you apart is emotional intelligence," she says. "We found that people with social intelligence were more effective scientists, because an important part of science is communicating your ideas."

blog comments powered by Disqus