Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Underrepresentation of Diversity in Samples


When data is collected from a sample that does not include or underrepresents some populations, or represents them inaccurately, this can skew the results of the research and render it inapplicable to members of the underrepresented populations (Whiston, 2009). When populations are underrepresented, the end result of research serves only a limited segment of people (American Psychological Association (APA), 2002; Sue & Sue, 2008). Furthermore, if psychologists do not consider the cultural contexts of clients or research participants, the results may be useless or inappropriate, but may also be pathologizing in some circumstances. For example, if a researcher evaluates research participants using an assessment that is normed on a Native American sample, the researcher may judge the responses of African American participants as abnormal, in effect, pathologizing them (Sedlacek, 1994). Inappropriate assumptions and inferences in research have far-reaching implications for future studies as well as the pathologized or inappropriately affected population.

Scientific Racism

Scientific racism occurs when scientists (or psychologists) rely on supposedly empirically derived evidence and objective data that is skewed or inaccurate (Pickren, 2009). When such evidence and data are obtained from a sample that is not representative of the population it intends to serve, it can distort the actual characteristics of the underrepresented population, and cause harm. The applications derived from such research are not applicable to the underrepresented population. The idea that one population effectively represents all is often a remnant of the historic Eurocentric hegemony of psychology (Pickren, 2009). Over time, psychologists learned that research based on solely EuroAmerican samples was basically inapplicable to other cultures, races, and ethnicities (Pickren, 2009). Similarly, research based on one diverse culture may not be applicable to another diverse culture (Marks, Murray, Evans, & Estacio, 2011).

Creating Representative Samples

To remedy the effects of skewed data collection, samples must be representative of the populations the research intends to serve (APA, 2002; Marks, et al., 2011; Whiston, 2009). For example, if a psychologist's intent is to implement a program for a diverse culture, the research gained from a different diverse culture may not be appropriate for use in the program or intervention design. Similarly, research obtained from the majority culture may be inapplicable as well (Whiston, 2009). The APA (2002) claimed People of Color remain underrepresented in many research samples.

The APA (2002) recommended several guidelines for producing ethical research beneficial to the intended populations. First, psychologists must become aware of themselves as cultured individuals, with bias and perceptions developed through the lens of their culture of origin (APA, 2000). When creating samples, If the intended population is the U.S. population, participants must closely match the diversity as determined by census or other defining description. For example, if the U.S. Census claims 15% of the American population is Native Alaskan, then the same percentage of Native Alaskan participants should be included in the study (Marks, et al., 2011).

The APA (2002) further suggests that it may be prudent to include members of the population researched for their valuable feedback and direction when choosing participants. Additionally, the APA encouraged researchers to be aware of and accurately report the demographics of sample participants as well as the generalizeability of the research results.

Psychological research must have a cultural and ethnic basis (Pickren, 2009). It must adequately represent the populations it intends to affect. Then psychological research will have the capacity to be an all inclusive science that represents all people. When psychologists consider the global community and the diverse nature of various populations, they will generate applicable solutions for a wider segment of the population (Marsella, 1998).


American Psychological Association. (APA) (2002). Guidelines on Multicultural Education, Training, Research, Practice, and Organizational Change for Psychologists. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/policy/multicultural-guidelines.aspx

Pickren, W. E. (2009). Liberating history: The context of the challenge of psychologists of color to American psychology. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15(4), 425-433. doi: 10.1037/a0017561

Marks, D. F., Murray, M., Evans, B., & Estacio, E. V. (2011). Health Psychology: Theory, Research, and Practice (3rd ed.). London: Sage.

Marsella, A. J. (1998). Toward a "global-community psychology": Meeting the needs of a changing world. American Psychologist, 53(12), 1282-1291. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.53.12.1282

Sedlacek, W. E. (1994). Issues in advancing diversity through assessment. Journal of Counseling and Development, 72, 549-553.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Whiston, S. C. (2009). Principles and applications of assessment in counseling (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

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