December 12, 2022
A team of researchers affiliated with Scholars for Elevating Equity and Diversity (SEED), including LRDC developmental psychology graduate students Lorraine Blatt and Nabila Jamal-Orozco, set out to introduce a framework positioned in ethics and social justice to help psychologists and researchers in social-science fields make thoughtful decisions about the collection and use of demographic data.
Demographic data is commonly used in psychological sciences to determine whether specific demographic groups are disproportionately associated with or affected by phenomena. The collection and use of demographic data has the potential to aid in transforming inequities brought about by unjust social conditions, however, many current methods surrounding demographic data do not achieve this goal. Read the full article on the LRDC website.
Researchers in psychological sciences commonly encounter ethical and social-justice dilemmas when working with demographic data. Thus, a team of researchers affiliated with Scholars for Elevating Equity and Diversity (SEED), including the University of Pittsburgh Learning Research and Development Centerâ€™s developmental psychology graduate students Lorraine Blatt and Nabila Jamal-Orozco, set out to introduce a framework positioned in ethics and social justice to help psychologists and researchers in social-science fields make thoughtful decisions about the collection and use of demographic data.
The authors examined existing issues within research processes before proposing their framework. For example, research questionnaires can often force participants to incorrectly select an identity from a list of identities that do not apply to them, reinforcing the sense that psychological research does not recognize or accept their identity and leading to inaccurate interpretations of research. Further,, aggregating or collapsing subsets of socially defined communities (e.g., gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer) into larger, less descriptive categories (e.g., LGBTQ+) for analyses conceals variation between groups that may be important, and falsely implies that the collapsed categories share key similarities when their differences may be important to acknowledge. It is also common for publications to omit demographic data during reporting, exemplified by a review of the American Journal of Psychiatry from 2019-2020 that found sexual-orientation identity data that may have been relevant to interpreting and generalizing findings was omitted in 99% of studies. Lastly, researchers and institutions rarely create methods for disseminating findings to the communities that participated in research and people who are supporting these communities, which disproportionately exploits minoritized communities.
The authors proposed framework calls on three foundational models of social justice. Some suggestions from the framework urge researchers to:
- Seek input on — rather than assume — who may benefit from their research.
- Consider using pre registration options to share how they plan to analyze certain variables, including how they will define and use demographic data and how decisions were made regarding the use of demographic data in their analyses.
- Develop competency in explaining the limits of their demographic data.
- Hire research staff from the target community to provide input and help develop rapport with community partners and participants.
- Include questions about cultural assets and strengths; do not focus only on cultural deficits or weaknesses.
- Re-review the literature to understand how community input has or has not been applied to similar research before.
Takeaways from this research suggest that researchers should proceed thoughtfully when using demographic data along with regularly reviewing and updating their practices. The authors also suggest revamping graduate curricula, for example, research-methods courses could explicitly discuss ethical and socially just methods for engaging underrepresented participants in research. Lastly, the authors have created an open reader-commentary page, at which readers can provide feedback and offer ideas that can be considered in future efforts to create a valuable framework for addressing the issues identified in their publication.
Call, C. C., Eckstrand, K. L., Kasparek, S. W., Boness, C. L., Blatt, L., Jamal-Orozco, N., Novacek, D. M., & Foti, D. (2022). An ethics and social-justice approach to collecting and using demographic data for psychological researchers. Perspectives on Psychological Science.