Research

Most of my scholarship (RISC Profile) has explored three general questions about the relation between individuals and social organizations: (1) How does social organization influence health and functioning? (2) How do individuals come to participate in social organizations? (3) What shapes the work and role of staff within organizations? My 2011 book, Homelessness, Housing, and Mental Illness (Schutt, 2011, Harvard University Press) investigates each of these questions within an integrated theoretical framework and using multiple research methods. There is a blog about the book at Page 99 Test and a longer review at Miller-McCune. In an essay on the Harvard University Press blog, I discuss the implications of my book for current housing policies: HUP blog on HHMI Social Neuroscience: Brain, Mind, and Society, edited with Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and neuroscientist Matcheri S. Keshavan, MD and Harvard Medical School neuropsychologist Larry J. Seidman, PhD integrates new scholarship in neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology and sociology in order to provide an interdisciplinary framework for understanding human sociality and the bidirectional influence between individuals and their social environments. This book builds on an Exploratory Seminar for which we received funding from Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute (March 2011), that included presentations by some of the world’s leading scholars in each of these disciplines. You can learn more about the seminar from the Participant List and the program description. I connect this work to developments in evolutionary biology and the history (and future) of sociology in essays published by The Evolution Institute. A lengthy video about research is available here in a SAGE Publications collection.

You can also learn more about my interests concerning the relation between individuals and social organizations at Campaign for the American Reader. The next sections present more details about my scholarship in relation to each of the three primary research questions with which I have been concerned:

(1) How does social organization influence health and functioning? I have used in much of my research on organizational influence the extensive data collected in the Boston McKinney Project, the large National Institute of Mental Health-funded research demonstration project to test the effect of group versus individual housing for which I was a co-investigator (Schutt, 2011). With those data, I have tested the effect of housing experience on satisfaction (Schutt et al., 1997), on residential preferences (Schutt et al., 2000), on days homeless (Schutt et al., 2009; Goldfinger, Schutt et al., 1999) and, in collaboration with neuropsychologist Larry Seidman (and Brina Caplan), in relation to cognitive functioning (Schutt et al., 2007; Caplan, Schutt et al., 2006; Seidman, Schutt et al., 2003).  Homelessness, Housing and Mental Illness (Schutt, 2011) examines the divergence of consumer housing preferences and clinician housing recommendations, the meaning and impact of mental illness, the consequences of substance abuse, the process of developing social relations, changing staff roles and empowering tenants within group homes, and the impact of these factors on residential stability. This work contributes to a growing literature on the influence of the social environment on attitudes, behavior and cognitive functioning.You can read more about the book at the Page 99 Test blog maintained by Martin Zeringue. Social Neuroscience: Brain, Mind, and Society, connects this work to neuroscience research on human sociality and to neuropsychological research on social cognition.  I have extended this work  I extended this work with Marsha Ellison, PhD and others in a recently completed randomized trial of peer support for Veterans in supported housing (funded by the Veterans Health Administration) and in a new cluster randomized trial of alternative treatments to enhance social functioning of persons with serious mental illness with Matcheri Keshavan, MD (funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute).

I focused on similar issues in an analysis of participants in a national VA transitional work and residential program, extending psychologist Rudolph Moos’s concept of “social climate” with a hierarchical linear model of the effect of level of program involvement on individuals’ psychiatric symptoms, substance abuse, days homeless, and days employed (Schutt et al., 2005). Earlier publications based on my surveys in Boston-area shelters examined the impact of social support on feelings of distress among homeless persons (Schutt et al., 1994) and the impact of shelter-based HIV/AIDS prevention practices on AIDS awareness (Schutt et al., 1992). I have also investigated the impact of legal organization on the treatment of juveniles (Dannefer and Schutt, 1982; Schutt and Dannefer, 1988).

In a project with our Center for Survey Research–BEACON: The Boston Panel Surveyand colleagues Lee Hargraves, Floyd J. Fowler, and Anthony Roman, and Philip Brenner (and initially Trent Buskirk), we are examining the influence of neighborhood context on health and functioning. The project’s initial funding was from a Creative Economy Initiatives Fund from the University of Massachusetts President’s Office.  Now, in a collaboration with Dan O’Brien and other colleagues from the Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI) at Northeastern University, we received funding in 2020 from the National Science Foundation to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Boston with an expanded BEACON survey.

(2) How do individuals come to participate in social organizations? My primary focus in attempting to understand how individuals choose social organizations has been on understanding the housing and service preferences of homeless persons (Schutt, 2011; Schutt and Goldfinger, 1996; Schutt et al., 1992; Schutt, 1992), but I have linked this question to research on clinicians’ service recommendations and their correspondence to client preferences (Goldfinger and Schutt, 1996; Schutt, 2011; Schutt et al., 2005). My goal has been to understand how conceptions of service needs are generated and their implications for service delivery and service outcomes. This work identifies the marked discrepancies between the orientations of service staff and their clients as well as some of the consequences of these discrepancies for service efficacy. I have also examined the larger cultural context that shapes orientations to mental health and illness with a content analysis of references to schizophrenia in a national sample of newspapers (Duckworth, Halpern, Schutt & Gillespie, 2003). In an earlier project, I studied influences on boundary regulation in a craft union (Schutt, 1987). In a longitudinal randomized trial funded by the Veterans Health Administration, Improving Outcomes for Homeless Veterans with Peer Support, I am working with a team led by Marsha Ellison (PI) to test the ability of peer supporters to engage formerly homeless veterans with substance abuse and mental health problems in services designed to improve housing retention and other outcomes.

(3) What shapes the work and orientations of staff within organizations? The primary focus of my research on service organization staff in has been the role of case management. This work is reflected in Organization in a Changing Environment: The Unionization of Public Employees (1986) and an article on militancy among public welfare employees (Schutt, 1982) as well as in Responding to the Homeless: Policy and Practice (Schutt and Garrett, 1992) and in my co-edited book, The Organizational Response to Social Problems (Hartwell and Schutt, 2001) and its chapter on case management in mental health (Schutt, 2001). I have recently extended this work into the area of public health with a multi-method study of case management in a CDC-funded program to reduce the incidence of breast and cervical cancer and cardiovascular disease among low-income women (Schutt, Cruz and Woodford, 2008; Schutt and Fawcett, 2005) and a large expert panel project to translate the results of this and other research into policy options and program guidelines (Schutt, 2005; Estabrook, Schutt and Woodford, 2008). With funding from the National Cancer Institute and in collaboration with Lidia Schapira, MD at the Massachusetts General Hospital, I have investigated the orientations of community health workers to clinical research (Schutt et al., 2010) and have developed a training program about cancer clinical trials. A related analysis of client satisfaction in a community health program is available from the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. I also examined a recent effort to engage homeless persons diagnosed as seriously mentally ill as staff within an empowerment center (Schutt and Rogers, 2009). In a recent project for The Conference Board, I have analyzed employee engagement in an international sample of employees in major corporations. See the attached Curriculum Vitae for all references.