Is it really different for women walking at night than men? This study has new evidence

Feb 6, 2024, 6:04 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2024, 8:34 am

Study results shown in an image that was given to participants. A heat map shows participant select...

Study results shown in an image that was given to participants. A heat map shows participant selections indicating where they would be looking if walking in the photo setting. (Brigham Young University)

(Brigham Young University)

PROVO — The findings from a recent study from Brigham Young University concluded that walking at night is a widely different experience for men and women. The study was published on Tuesday.

The university issued a news release stating that the results showed clear evidence of “constant environmental scanning” that women conduct as they walk in the dark. Multiple images were published with the study showing a darkly lit photo of a pathway, and indications of heat points, which represent a line of sight for the person walking.

“This project has been a fantastic conversation starter to bring awareness to lived experiences, particularly of women in this case,” co-author Alyssa Baer said.

The study was led by health professor Robbie Chaney, and co-authored by Ida Tovar and Baer, BYU undergraduates at the beginning of the study and have now moved on past graduate school.

It used nearly 600 individuals, 56% women and 44% men. Each participant was instructed to look through 16 images of campus areas at Utah Valley University, Westminster College, the University of Utah and BYU. Participants were asked to imagine themselves walking through the photo. Using a Qualtrics heat map, they were then asked to click on areas of the image that stood out the most to them.

The data collected was combined into each photo, showing men tend to focus on the path or fixed object, like a light or garbage can, while women typically scanned the perimeter, focusing on bushes or dark areas next to a path.

“The resulting heat maps represent perhaps what people are thinking or feeling or doing as they are moving through these spaces,” 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.”

Study results shown in an image that was given to participants. A heat map shows participant selections indicating where they would be looking if walking in the photo setting. (Brigham Young University)

The study specifies the results “may be reflective of (women’s) broad experience with fear of crime that highlights a greater fear of crime, particularly personally violent or sexual crimes resulting from stalking, prowling, or loitering in poorly lit areas.”

“My hope is that in having concrete data, we are able to start conversations that lead to meaningful action,” Baer said.

“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.”

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Is it really different for women walking at night than men? This study has new evidence