A new study from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah maps out just how differently women and men see things while walking alone at night, illuminating concerns women have when out alone after dark.
In the study, participants were shown various images of walkable areas from four different university campuses, then asked to click on the parts of the photos that captured their attention.
The results showed women focused on potential hazards, such as bushes and dark areas along the photographed walking path, while men focused on the path itself, lights on the path or garbage cans — things not typically perceived as threats to safety.
“The resulting heat maps represent perhaps what people are thinking or feeling or doing as they are moving through these spaces,” BYU Public Health Professor Robbie Chaney said. "Before we started the study, we expected to see some differences, but we didn’t expect to see them so contrasting. It’s really visually striking.”
Chaney led the study, which was co-authored by Alyssa Baer and Ida Tovar.
The research, published in the journal “Violence and Gender,” included approximately 600 participants who were told to imagine themselves walking in the designated areas, and used a heat map to click on the areas that stood out to them.
“This project has been a fantastic conversation starter to bring awareness to lived experiences, particularly of women in this case,” said Baer. “My hope is that in having concrete data we are able to start conversations that lead to meaningful action.”
The authors hope that these findings will help colleges and universities design campuses that take into account the fear women face when walking alone at night.
“Why can’t we live in a world where women don’t have to think about these things? It’s heartbreaking to hear of things women close to me have dealt with,” Chaney said.
“It would be nice to work towards a world where there is no difference between the heat maps in these sets of images. That is the hope of the public health discipline.”
This story was originally published by Laura Polacheck at Scripps News Salt Lake City.
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