Cancer survivors less likely to receive callbacks from potential employers

Job applicants who are cancer survivors are less likely to receive callbacks from potential retail employers than those who did not disclose their health history, according to a recent study by Rice University and Penn State University researchers.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology by the American Psychological Association, focused on retail employers and compared two groups of job applicants: applicants who ostensibly never had cancer and applicants who indicated on their resumes they were cancer survivors and wore a hat that read “cancer survivor” when applying for a job. Applicants disclosing a cancer history received fewer callbacks from managers than the applicants who did not disclose a history of cancer. For the cancer survivor group, 21 percent received callbacks. For the control group, nearly 37 percent received callbacks, a statistically significant difference, according to the researchers.

This is especially problematic as people with chronic and past illnesses are protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and our findings indicate that cancer survivors do tend to disclose their cancer histories with interviewers at relatively high rates,” said lead researcher Larry Martinez, assistant professor of hospitality management at Penn State.Martinez, who earned his undergraduate degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. at Rice University under the guidance of co-author Mikki Hebl, professor of psychology and management, began the research for this study as part of his graduate work.

This study is based on this idea that Mikki has been working on for a while now,” Martinez said. “Basically, people are more likely to discriminate in very subtle interpersonal ways. There’s less eye contact. There are shorter interaction times when speaking with managers. There are more negative interpersonal behaviors from managers, like frowning, brow furrowing and less smiling – fewer cues that communicate to applicants that they are interested in hiring them for the job.”

Part of the study targeted 121 retail managers at three large shopping malls in a metropolitan area in the southern part of the United States. Five undercover researchers, two men and three women between ages 21 and 29, were assigned randomly to disclose a history of cancer or provide no information about a history of cancer. Prior to data collection, researchers confirmed each establishment was hiring. Researchers excluded employers who used a strict online-only application process. Only one applicant entered each store.Participants presented managers with resumes that included their actual work experience; however, resumes were modified to fit the work history and job requirements for the retail position and to remove any experience that would make the applicant overqualified. Participants’ resumes were also standardized for length, formatting and level of experience.

While researchers make clear that no hiring laws were broken, they found evidence of discrimination. “Despite the fact that cancer survivors are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, we did see this difference in callbacks between them and the general public, as well as the negative interpersonal treatment they received,” Martinez said. Also as part of the study, researchers conducted an online survey with 87 participants who were employed full time, most of whom had management experience or experience as an interviewer. Participants were asked to provide their opinions regarding how people feel about cancer survivors in the workplace. The results indicated that workers with a history of cancer were rated higher in “warmth” than in competency.

Researchers concluded that while diversity efforts have generally increased over the last decade, health characteristics are often not included in diversity programs.”Managers and employees should be mindful of the fact that although societal attitudes toward cancer survivors are generally quite positive, with people often viewing them as champions who have successfully overcome a traumatic experience, we nonetheless might perceive them as being less desirable employees simply because of their history with cancer,” Martinez said.

Next steps in this area could include training managers to be mindful of subtle biases they might have toward people with past and chronic health conditions, according to Martinez and Hebl. “We could train applicants who might be prone to experiencing discrimination how to present themselves in interviews in ways to reduce possible negativity they might experience,” Martinez said.

Martinez et al. Selection BIAS: Stereotypes and discrimination related to having a history of cancer. J App Psychol. 2015; DOI: [Abstract]


Childhood brain tumors affect working memory of adult survivors

Adult survivors of childhood brain tumors have lower working memory performance compared to healthy adults, according to researchers at Georgia State University and Emory University.

The findings, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, report that adult survivors of pediatric posterior fossa brain tumors performed significantly lower than controls on standardized clinical tests of working memory performance administered in the study.

The researchers studied the working memory of adult survivors of childhood posterior fossa brain tumors versus a healthy control sample using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and neuropsychological measures. Each group consisted of 17 participants.

During fMRI, the participants completed a measure called the n-back task. They were asked to monitor a series of letters and respond “yes” or “no” with their index or middle finger on a button box if an item was presented “n” items before, ranging from one to three letters back. Accurately recalling a letter two or three letters back represented higher working memory capabilities. Participants also completed other standardized clinical measures.

Whole-brain fMRI analyses also found survivors had significantly greater blood-oxygen level dependent (BOLD) activation in the left superior/middle frontal gyri and left parietal lobe of their brain during a verbal working memory task, demonstrating higher activation in these structures. Analyses revealed higher levels of activations in prefrontal regions were associated with lower behavioral performance on higher-load working memory tasks.

Our goal was to identify the neural mechanisms underlying working memory difficulty in adult survivors of childhood brain tumors,” said Tricia King, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgia State. “The results suggest that adult survivors of pediatric posterior fossa brain tumors recruited additional resources to control cognitive ability in the prefrontal lobe during increased demands for working memory. This increased prefrontal activation is associated with lower working memory performance.”

Adult survivors of childhood brain tumors are at risk for neurocognitive deficits, such as working memory impairment, that contribute to poor long-term outcomes. While advances in diagnosis and treatment have led to improved clinical outcomes and increases in the five-year survival rates of pediatric brain tumor patients, research has shown that long-term childhood brain tumor survivors suffer from adverse health, disrupted quality of life, and impaired cognitive and social outcomes.

Working memory deficits are also common in other neurological conditions, such as schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury, because working memory is an essential component for higher-order cognitive processes in humans.

Understanding of the neural mechanism underlying working memory impairments in adult survivors of childhood brain tumors is limited and little fMRI research with these survivors has been reported. This study was designed to address this gap in knowledge and improve treatment for survivors of childhood brain tumors.

King et al. Neural Underpinnings of Working Memory in Adult Survivors of Childhood Brain Tumors. J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2015;21:494-505 DOI: [Abstract]

When things are at their worst, Christianity is intensely enacted

A new University of Copenhagen PhD thesis has taken a look at faith as practised in the daily lives of Danish cancer survivors. The thesis shows that Christian beliefs play a significant role in the lives of people suffering from cancer, and that their faith is often displayed in ways that challenge common perceptions of what Christianity is.

“My results show that people’s individual Christian faith becomes present during times of personal crisis. Faith and hope manifest themselves very intensely, but it is rare that they show in the classical forms we normally associate with Christianity. Rather than a single and static set of beliefs, everyday Christianity constantly unfolds in multiple ways and in relation to others,” says Christine Tind Johannessen-Henry, a PhD fellow at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Theology.

Connections between faith and cancer

Christine Tind Johannessen-Henry carried out her research in collaboration with the Danish Cancer Society Research Center, as part of a cross-disciplinary project involving theology and health sciences. The research involved a questionnaire study of 1,043 people who have survived cancer; 20 of these survivors were also involved in an interview study with participant observation.

“The results of the study show that the deeper the crisis people find themselves in, the higher the level of validation of their various forms of faith and beliefs in God, while they also experience a greater will to live and more vibrant sense of being. The diverse forms of beliefs and hopes are enacted tightly interwoven with situations of confusion, anxiety and joy, all of which emerge as individual pass through diagnosis, chemotherapy, surgery and sequelae. These types of situations manifest in the bodies of the survivors, and continue to affect the individual for long periods of time,” says Christine Tind Johannessen-Henry.

Faith is belief in action

The research, Johannessen-Henry says, found that those participating in the study perform their faith in multiple ways. Denmark is often characterised as a very secular society, which builds on Christian values. The study results show that participants believe in Christian doctrine such as ‘God’ (59%), ‘A loving God’ (55%), ‘A forgiving God’ (49%), ‘Christ’ (51%) and ‘life after death’, in the sense that “the impact someone has had on the lives of others will continue to live on in their hearts after they die” (87%). People’s individual faith, however, shows through more than just utterances which can be determined by “yes” and “no”, but shows through the survivors’ different practices.

“Faith is how we ‘enact’ our beliefs – what we do when we find ourselves in any given situation and must deal with it. One example is when a cancer survivor gives a gift to a relative with the intention that will keep them related after the survivor passes away. Another is when we tell our children that God, angels or deceased family members will take care of them – or even speak to those who we believe will watch over our loved ones – we are, in effect, creating, sharing, giving and receiving faith as a part of a congregation. The images and metaphors we use and use to cope with difficult situations elucidate that Christianity always unfolds in relations and through the life situation of the believer. In this sense Christianity constantly develops, moves and renews and new spaces of faith is created” Johannessen-Henry says.

The relation between dogmatic and everyday Christianity

In her PhD thesis, Johannessen-Henry emphasises the difference between Christianity that is dogmatically practice in theology and Church rituals, and Christianity that people live in their daily lives. These different  “Christianities” repeatedly connect and link together, however. The project’s research shows that an individual’s faith constantly moves between ideas from Christian tradition and all sorts of non-Christian elements. According to Johannessen-Henry, these network of faith practises offer an understanding of how a doctrine such as “resurrection” is enacted in everyday life.

“Even though people suffering from cancer hold beliefs that might not be specifically Christian – for example ‘rebirth’ in other and very different versions – the mosaic of the Danish participants faith does incorporate pieces of Christianity – ‘God as loving father’, ‘omnipotence’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘crucifixion’, ‘guiding stars’, ‘angels’ – that it is impossible to claim that it isn’t Christian either. The different elements are so tightly woven together that it is impossible to distil perceptions of a ‘real’ Christianity from the ‘manyfolded’ and diverse Christianity,” Johannessen-Henry says.

Christine Tind Johannessen-Henry defended her dissertation, “The Polydoxy of Everyday Christianity. An Empirical-Theological Study of Faith in the Context of Cancer”, Friday 23 August 2013.