Association for Psychological Science

APS Media Tip Sheet: September 2020

Psychological Science Across Disciplinary and Geographic Borders

Newswise — Topics in this issue:

  1. People with blindness have a refined sense of hearing: Does loss of sight enhance a person’s sense of hearing? New research supports this commonly held belief in one intriguing way: by testing blind people’s ability to navigate their surroundings.
  1. Persistent problems and modest successes: First-ever review of gender parity within psychological science: Gender gaps for women in psychological science are closing, yet some remain, and more work is needed.
  1. Friendly and open societies supercharged the early spread of COVID-19: The case to “flatten the curve” is bolstered by new data showing a connection between social openness and the initial rapid spread of COVID-19.

1. People with blindness have a refined sense of hearing: The Marvel superhero Daredevil, though blind, fights crime with the aid of his superhuman hearing, which gives him a clear picture of his surroundings. But outside of Hollywood, can the brain use hearing to compensate for the loss of vision to help navigate the world? A new study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that sight is not a prerequisite for spatial hearing, or the brain’s ability to locate the source of a sound; on the contrary, a lack of vision might actually enhance an individual’s sense of spatial hearing. These results contradict past studies that concluded vision is necessary for the auditory system’s translation of sounds into representations of space as well as for the development of spatial-hearing skills. Researchers studied how well 17 congenitally blind (blind from birth or before 3 years of age) and 17 sighted participants of the same age and gender distinguished the position of two sources of sound located in either central and peripheral, horizontal and vertical, or frontal and rear spaces. Results showed that congenitally blind participants had significant advantages over sighted participants in identifying the source of a sound, regardless of its location. Additionally, congenitally blind participants were able to place sounds in front of or behind them with similar levels of accuracy, whereas sighted participants were much more accurate at placing sounds in front of them than behind them. The researchers found that blind participants showed enhanced activity in the visual region of the brain when they located sounds, indicating that they had sharpened their auditory-spatial abilities by relying on spatial hearing to navigate their environment. Although further research is needed to understand how the brain reorganizes in response to blindness, these findings suggest that brain plasticity may allow people without sight to develop enhanced auditory spatial skills.

Reference: Battal, C., Occelli, V., Bertonati, G., Falagiarda, F., & Collignon, O. (2020). General enhancement of spatial hearing in congenitally blind people. Advance online publication. 

2. Persistent problems and modest successes: First-ever review of gender parity within psychological science: Despite years of discussion and research, gender gaps persist across many scientific fields. Though wide-ranging programs have helped to narrow these gaps, more work is needed, and comprehensive data are still lacking. To address this dearth of research in the field of psychological science, the first-ever systematic review of women’s career advances and persistent obstacles has been published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. This report focuses on three gender-gap domains: career advancement, financial compensation, and service to an institution or university. It also identifies the mechanisms that allow gender gaps to remain. The report notes that women are well represented in early-career positions, have more visibility in leadership roles, and are mentoring the next generation of psychological scientists. However, women also hold fewer grants, publish fewer papers, and hold fewer senior faculty roles. The report makes a number of recommendations for reducing gender gaps, including the following:

  1. Documenting and raising awareness of gender disparities through further research.
  2. Providing transparency about compensation disparities, offering workshops and training in effective negotiation skills for women, and creating formal gender-based pay reviews.
  3. Developing resources and policies that address work-family conflict.
  4. Formalizing and documenting expectations for professional mentorship from and for both women and men.
  5. Teaching bystander-awareness interventions for sexual harassment. 

"Psychology is a field that studies gender bias, stereotypes, and mechanisms of behavior change,” said June Gruber, an associate professor at the University of Colorado and lead author of the paper. “Although we have made much progress over time, there remain significant and important issues to address to chart a path of equity for women looking ahead."

Reference: Gruber, J., et al. (2020). The future of women in psychological science. Perspectives on Psychological Science. Advance online publication.

3. Friendly and open societies supercharged the early spread of COVID-19: The speed at which COVID-19 initially spread across the globe was alarming. Many biological and sociological factors fueled these startling infection rates, but certain countries seemed more susceptible to early widespread infections than others. New research published as a fast-track article in the journal Psychological Science singles out one powerful factor fueling the initial spread of the virus, a cultural characteristic known as relational mobility—a measurement of social openness, or the opportunity people have to interact with others of their choosing. The new findings show a direct correlation between each country’s social openness and its rates of both confirmed cases of COVID-19 and related deaths during an early period of countrywide outbreaks. “Cultures that are shown to have a high level of relational mobility may be paying the price by enduring a faster spread of COVID-19,” said Cristina E. Salvador, a psychological scientist at the University of Michigan and lead author of the paper. “These countries must find a way to fight against COVID-19 and other potential disease outbreaks without compromising their ideals of freedom and liberty.” The researchers analyzed how fast COVID-19 cases and deaths spread during the initial 30-day period after each country had at least one death and 100 cases. They then examined whether this spread was greater for countries high (vs. low) in relational mobility, as determined from a 2018 Facebook survey of 16,939 people from 39 countries. To isolate the impact of relational mobility, Salvador and her colleagues took into account countries’ demographic factors, such as population density, population size, median age, and GDP, and cultural factors, such as individualism and the rigidity with which social norms are enforced. These findings underscore the need for social distancing to “flatten the curve,” especially in countries that value social openness.

Reference: Salvador, C. E., Berg, M. K., Yu, Q., San Martin, A, & Kitayama, S. (2020) Relational mobility predicts faster spread of COVID-19: A 39-country study. Psychological Science. Advance online publication.   

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Psychological Science, Sept-2020; Perspectives on Psychological Science, Sept-2020

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Released: 24-Sep-2020 10:45 AM EDT
Uncovering a ‘suPAR’ culprit behind kidney injury in COVID-19
Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

A new observational study finds patients in the hospital for COVID-19 have high levels of soluble urokinase receptor (suPAR), an immune-derived pathogenic protein that is strongly predictive of kidney injury.

Released: 24-Sep-2020 10:35 AM EDT
Climate pledges 'like tackling COVID-19 without social distancing'
University of Exeter

Current global pledges to tackle climate change are the equivalent of declaring a pandemic without a plan for social distancing, researchers say.

Released: 24-Sep-2020 10:10 AM EDT
Rebound or Permanent Slump? Possible Impacts of US COVID-19 Fiscal Policies
University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Fiscal policy is a powerful tool to combat economic downturns, but the results depend on decreasing inequality, an imperative to the efficacy of fiscal multipliers. As COVID-19 cases rise, new research offers insights into which fiscal policies may bolster the economy — and the other options, which may have long-term ramifications.

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Embargo will expire: 24-Sep-2020 2:00 PM EDT Released to reporters: 24-Sep-2020 9:25 AM EDT

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Released: 24-Sep-2020 5:05 AM EDT
Many Americans continue to maintain unhealthy lifestyle habits during COVID-19; overeating, alcohol drinking and marijuana use increase while exercise declines, reports USC Center for the Digital Future
USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

After more than six months of living in a pandemic, large percentages of Americans continue to indulge in unhealthy lifestyle habits, including overeating and increased use of alcohol and marijuana — all while many are exercising less, according to a study of the cultural impact of COVID-19 conducted by the USC Center for the Digital Future (CDF).

Newswise: Houston Methodist COVID-19 study shows rapid spread and potential for mutant viruses
Released: 23-Sep-2020 4:55 PM EDT
Houston Methodist COVID-19 study shows rapid spread and potential for mutant viruses
Houston Methodist

Molecular analysis of COVID-19’s powerful second wave in Houston shows a mutated virus strain linked to higher transmission and infection rates than the coronavirus strains that caused Houston’s first wave. Gene sequencing results from 5,085 COVID-positive patients tested at Houston Methodist since early March show a virus capable of adapting, surviving and thriving – making it more important than ever for physician scientists to understand its evolution as they work to discover effective vaccines and therapies.

Newswise: Likely molecular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis are revealed by network biology
Released: 23-Sep-2020 4:00 PM EDT
Likely molecular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis are revealed by network biology
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Researchers combined a lung-epithelial cell host interactome with a SARS-CoV-2 interactome. Network biology analysis of this human/SARS-CoV-2 interactome revealed potential molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis for SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Newswise: Statins Reduce COVID-19 Severity, Likely by Removing Cholesterol That Virus Uses to Infect
Released: 23-Sep-2020 3:45 PM EDT
Statins Reduce COVID-19 Severity, Likely by Removing Cholesterol That Virus Uses to Infect
University of California San Diego Health

Analyzing anonymized patient medical records, UC San Diego researchers discovered that cholesterol-lowering statins reduced risk of severe COVID-19 infection, while lab experiments uncovered a cellular mechanism that helps explain why.

Newswise: Flu Season Returns As The COVID-19 Pandemic Continues
Released: 23-Sep-2020 2:00 PM EDT
Flu Season Returns As The COVID-19 Pandemic Continues
Johns Hopkins Medicine

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues with no end in sight, the annual flu season emerges once again. Cases of the flu have already begun to surface around the nation, and there are some reports of co-infection with COVID-19. Johns Hopkins Medicine experts say now is the time to take action to fight against the flu. Doctors recommend that everyone age 6 months and older get the flu vaccine each year to prevent infection from the virus or reduce the severity of the illness.

Released: 23-Sep-2020 1:45 PM EDT
Mathematics: Modelling the timings of a COVID-19 second wave in Europe
Scientific Reports

How a second wave of COVID-19 infections may evolve across Europe over the next few months, using data on infection rates and travel within and between European countries, is modelled in a Scientific Reports paper.

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