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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797620935584 

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. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691620952789

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. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797620958118   

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CITATIONS

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




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