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Sixteen projects awarded $1.5M

From music downloads to polygamy, Egyptian astronomy to bank risk taking, SSHRC grants fund an impressive array of research

By Danelle D'Alvise, Research Communications

October 3, 2012

Matthew Woolhouse knows that Swedes suffer frequent insomnia and has thousands of data sets to prove it. This data doesn't come from standard sources however. The music psychologist has access to the data behind billions of music downloads from some 40 countries across the world -- including Sweden, a daylight-challenged country with a long-established insomnia problem.

"If you look at Sweden, their music downloads follow a general pattern where downloads rise in the afternoon and peak between 11 p.m. and midnight. After midnight, they have double the downloads of other countries," explains Woolhouse, an assistant professor of music in the School of the Arts. "While you might think they'd favour smooth jazz or something relaxing, it's entirely the opposite. Heavy metal, violent music is downloaded in greater quantities in the middle of the night -- it's almost as if they've given up trying to get to sleep."

Woolhouse describes his work as musical demographics, and because of a 5-year data sharing agreement with Nokia, he has access to a vast ocean of user-anonymized metadata from 2007.A $75,000 Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) will help Woolhouse establish a research lab dedicated to the analysis of Nokia's collection of music download data, including information such as country, date, time, artist, genre and subgenre that will be analyzed from a sociocultural and musicological perspective.

The Global Music Listening Lab in Association with Nokia is one of 16 projects awarded more than $1.5M funding from SSHRC's Insight program. Insight Development Grants provide funding from one to two years with awards ranging from $7000 to $75,000, while Insight Grants range from $7000 to $500,000 with a duration of three to five years.

"“These research projects not only represent an investment in basic research and research training, but an investment in our nation’s productivity and the quality of life in our communities,” said Mo Elbestawi, vice-president, research and international affairs. “That these grants have been awarded to researchers across five of our six faculties speaks to McMaster’s depth and breadth of expertise, and ability to develop innovative solutions for today’s societal challenges.”

The research projects awarded SSHRC funding are described below:

Faculty of Humanities

Chandrima Chakraborty, associate professor of English and cultural studies, has received an Insight Grant to examine how a "war on terror" frame reactivated and effectively secured the word "terrorist" to Sikh males in post 9/11 North America. Chakroborty will analyze post-9/11 Canadian and American cultural texts, including fiction, film, media reports and press releases to historicize the contemporary moment that has been characterized as an "age of terror" for the $63,442 project The unfinished past: turbans in an age of terror. This study has distinct implications for different religious groups and nationalities in the West and their ability to live together in the present, and in the future.

Michael Gauvreau, professor, department of history has been awarded a $37,794 Insight Development Grant and a $94,396 Insight Grant. His IDG will help produce an innovative two-volume history of Canada with colleagues from Western and Montréal for Canada as Projects: A Socio-Cultural History, 1627-1982. The volumes will mark the sesquicentennial of the Confederation of Canada in 2017 and will synthesize the substantial achievements of Canadian historical scholarship since 1980. Gauvreau's Insight Grant will fund his research program to historically examine and analyze one of the central paradoxes of the public culture and identity of modern Quebec with the project Quebec's dechristianization: religious crisis, confessional education, religious pluralism, 1954-2010.

 There are three main objectives in the research project Bonny Ibhawoh is undertaking for his $136,794 Insight Grant Seeking the political kingdom: nation, minorities and human rights in the African state. The associate professor of history seeks to: improve our understanding of the impact of constitutional human rights provisions on the protection of racial, ethnic and religious minority groups in Africa; explore how the contingencies of post-colonial national building and the discourse of nation and sovereignty have impacted the rights of minorities; and utilize these findings to contribute to broader academic and policy debates about minority rights protection in the modern nation state.

Graduate students are an integral part of Ivona Kucerová's Insight Grant, providing them with training and highly transferable skills as a result of their participation in her $126,602 project The relation between definite and indefinite articles and free word order: a typological study. Kucerová will investigate the grammatical means that languages use to encode the information that is conveyed by the article system in English. Second language learners of English often struggle with the English article system (a, the), especially if their mother tongue does not have overt articles. Her research will advance our theoretical knowledge and immediately lend itself to applications in second language teaching, language learning software and language impairment diagnostics.

If you read the words "lemon" and "ice", it's likely that your mind activates the taste of a lemon or the tactile experience of ice. Do experiences like these influence our ability to recognize known words? Victor Kuperman, assistant professor, department of linguistics and languages, will explore this question with his $70,675 Insight Development Grant Sensing the word: effects of nonlinguistic experiences on language processing and learning. Kuperman's research program will provide information valuable for refining strategies of vocabulary learning, an essential part of acquiring written and oral language proficiency.

Faculty of Social Sciences

Does trade facilitate technological improvement and innovation in the less developed country by making firms invest more into their technology as they have to face harsh foreign competition? Or will trade make the gap between countries even larger? Is this effect the same for unproductive and highly efficient firms or are there any differences? These are some of the questions assistant professor of economics Svetlana Demidova hopes to answer with the project The impact of technology differences on firm behaviour and its implications for welfare of trading countries. Her $69,000 Insight Grant will look at the effects of technological differences on the resulting average productivity of firms in each country, as well as the income levels of its citizens.


 Governments from across the globe are addressing the needs of their "greying" populations, focused on initiatives such as healthy aging, implementation of health and social services and income provision. These initiatives reflect the life trajectories of most of the aging population, but ignore the subgroup of older homeless people, who present a variety of challenges to public policy or community practices aimed at reducing homelessness. Amanda Grenier , Gilbrea Chair in Aging and Mental Health and the chair of the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging, will lead a $169,060 Insight Grant project on Homelessness in late life: growing old on the streets: in shelters and long-term care. Grenier and colleagues from McGill will explore the issue of homelessness and aging at the levels of social programming and personal experience.

Sociologist Melanie Heath will examine how the criminalization of polygamy challenges nation-states to wrestle with competing laws and values of women's right to equality, the right to freedom of religion and culture and the right to sexual and familial intimacy. Heath will use her $287,779 Insight Grant to compare polygamy's criminalization in Canada, the United States, France and Benin with a study of polygamous practice titled Harm or right: polygamy's contested terrain within and across borders. Heath proposes to answer three broad questions: 1) Does polygamy's criminalization expand democratic citizenship rights and gender equality? 2) How do governments seek to balance competing rights of equality, sexual and familial intimacy, and religious freedom in regulating polygamy? 3) How do understandings of cultural patterns and laws regarding polygamy move across borders? Heath's research will facilitate training of three PhD students in theories and methods to study competing values.

People with intellectual disabilities (PWID) are historically stigmatized, marginalized and excluded from community life. Social work professor Ann Fudge Schormans and geographer Robert Wilton, will be taking an innovative approach to explore the everday use of public space by PWID to understand where they do -- and don't -- go. The $73,503 Insight Development Grant for their study Mapping the Self in Public Space: People with Intellectual Disabilities Everyday Use of City Space will also use technologies such as the iPad2, GPS and GIS to enable both objective and subjective representations of personal and collective experiences of space.

 DeGroote School of Business

Ying Hong's one year, $26,156 grant will be used to explore The effects of structure, HRM, and network on innovation performance. The assistant professor in the human resources and management area will take an integrated perspective on the predictors of innovation in organizations by examining the interactional effect of human resource management (HRM), organizational structure and social networks. Her findings will inform Canadian businesses how to stay competitive in today's business environment.

Are banks that comply with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act (FDICIA) internal control requirements in the pre-financial crisis period (2000 -2006) less  risky than non-FDICIA banks? Accounting & Financial Management Services professors Justin Jin and Kiridaran Kanagaretnam will undertake a timely and relevant examination of the function of effective internal control requirements with their research project The Impact of internal control regulations on bank risk taking. Their $32,000 Insight Development Grant will produce information that is important to investors, bankers, auditors, academics, and policy makers and regulators.


Information systems professors Khaled Hassanein and Milena Head were awarded an $152,608 Insight Grant to research Understanding use and continuance intention to use high maintenance information systems: the role of perceived maintenance effort. Their research program will examine High Maintenance Information Systems (HMIS), which they define as Information Systems (IS) whose usage requires an ongoing effort beyond the effort required to initially learn how to operate the system. Their research will focus on Web 2.0 social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn as examples of HMIS whose users need to put significant effort on an ongoing basis to: update their profiles, respond to messages, partake in discussions, post content, endorse others, and numerous other task to keep up with their peers and to derive potential benefits from the web site. Hassanein and Head's proposed program seeks to develop a construct and associated scale for Perceived Maintenance Effort (PME) to gain a better understanding of user preferences in using HMIS which will result in practical guidelines for HMIS design, development, promotion and use.


Faculty of Science

The "star clocks" found in Egyptian tombs, coffins and temples present several problems to researchers in Egyptology and the history of science. Astronomer Sarah Symons hopes to solve some of these problems with her Insight Development Grant of $63,280 for the research project Analysis of ancient Egyptian astronomical data and observation techniques. While the star clocks are sophisticated, full of astronomical information and represent the earliest written records of a program of astronomical observation that we can recognize as "scientific", they are accompanied by no instructions and few explanations. Symons seeks answers to questions such as: where did these observations take place? Which direction were the observers looking in and at what events? How were the observations timed?

Faculty of Health Sciences

No study to date has examined the impact of maternal history of childhood maltreatment and subsequent parenting on infant developmental outcomes. Andrea Gonzalez, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychiatry & neurosciences , along with colleagues from the department of pediatrics, Harriet MacMillan and Christine Werkerle and Susan Jack from the school of nursing, has been awarded a two-year, $69,874 the Insight Development Grant Maternal History of Childhood Maltreatment: Parenting and Infant Outcomes, which will help develop prevention and intervention services, influence policy to implement social care services, and increase public awareness about the nature of violence.  

 “This research is the key to innovation and to building knowledge for Canada’s future,” said Dr. Chad Gaffield, president of SSHRC. “Through this funding support, we are generating insights and developing innovative solutions for today’s social, economic and cultural issues, while training the next generation of researchers and leaders.”