Luísa Lima, professor at Iscte-University Institute of Lisbon and researcher at the Centre for Psychological Research and Social Intervention (CIS-Iscte), was honored in the 2023 edition of the book "Women in Science."
In the book, the social psychologist shares that "the complexity of social relationships and their transformative power" have always fascinated her. She stresses the role of social ties in her research work and how contexts shape behavior. The researcher believes "that we become better people when we become aware of the impact others have on our lives and the impact we have on others."
We took this opportunity to ask Luísa Lima a few questions.
© 2023 Rodrigo Cabrita | Ciência Viva
Can you tell us about a project or discovery you are particularly proud of?
I am very proud of the work that I did with my Ph.D. students. I think we did very innovative research in social psychology applied to health and the environment. And I'm very proud that I brought social psychology to environmental impact studies, particularly those done for the construction of the first solid waste incinerators in Portugal. Our research (Lima, 2004) showed that nearby residents' risk perception and negative attitudes towards the incinerator construction are associated with decreased quality of life - increased stress, anxiety, and depression. This means that even if there is no evidence that the incinerator can cause physical illness, concern about the issue impacts the mental health of nearby residents. It was with this perspective that I later participated in many other psychosocial impact studies of large controversial projects (dams, airports, hospital waste incinerators), trying to ensure that the perceptions of the residents were taken into account in the final decision and that there could be compensation for the suffering they would experience associated with the construction of these infrastructures. Identifying social factors that protect residents in this threatening situation (such as local identity, sense of community, perception of trust and justice) was another aspect I would like to highlight in my research (e.g., Marques & Lima, 2011). Lately, I have been working on the positive health impacts of contact with nature and participation in collectives, and these are also areas fascinate me.
How do you think science can be used to address some of the biggest challenges that women and girls face around the world, such as gender inequality?
Science can help expose these inequalities by showing the mechanisms perpetuating them. Gender stereotypes are present in all aspects of our lives and condition us because they create expectations that are not only different for men and women: they are less positive for women than for men, maintaining inequalities. In our studies on gender stereotypes in chronic pain (Bernardes & Lima, 2011), we showed that health professionals devalue women's pain compared to men's, especially if they act stoically. That is, if women do not match the female stereotype of being sensitive and fragile and do not complain about the pain they feel, their symptoms will be less considered, and their pain will be less medicated. In the case of men, regardless of their more or less stoic behavior, the credibility of the pain and the clinical assessment is always greater than when the patient is a woman. This is yet another situation where gender stereotypes clearly penalize women. Health professionals are always very uncomfortable when we present these data from experimental studies because they show that stereotypes act in very subtle ways. But exposing this scientific evidence of gender inequalities is the first step towards change.
What message would you like to leave to young women starting or considering a career in science?
The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, made a very important speech on this topic in which he recognizes the urgency of fighting these inequalities in science. I would just like to remind young women scientists starting not to expect to enter an ideal world because the world of science is neither neutral nor made of stars. It is not neutral because it is not immune to prejudices of gender, age, ethnicity, or social status. Nor is it made of stars, in the sense that the work we do is done collectively, with a lot of collaboration, and not by enlightened geniuses. We have to fight hard to be heard and respected, as in other professions; as in other professions, we have to support each other to achieve goals that, for men, are natural. But since science is not such a perfect world, it is a world in which we have enormous freedom to ask questions and seek answers. And that's why it pays to be a scientist.
Presented by Ciência Viva, the National Agency for Scientific and Technological Culture, the book "Women in Science" aims to pay tribute to Portuguese women scientists, who represent 45% of all researchers in Portugal and whose remarkable work has been fundamental to the progress that national Science and Technology have made in recent decades. The "Women in Science" initiative began in 2015 with the photography exhibition Women in Science, which opened on March 8 - International Women's Day, at the Pavilhão do Conhecimento, followed a year later by the launch of the first edition of the book Women in Science, which in addition to the 20 portraits from the photography exhibition, included 117 new pictures of national female researchers. The book will now have its 4th edition, to be published in 2023, also on International Women's Day.