In Brief

Small sample sizes, expense and difficulty defining study groups are some of the reasons behind the paucity of ethnically diverse health and psychological research studies, said psychologist Stanley Sue, PhD, in an April keynote address at the 2006 Child Health Psychology Conference in Gainesville, Fla. Sue noted that empirically validated research on ethnic groups is a relatively new area, spurred by the APA Task Force on Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures' 1996 update to an APA Div. 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology) report. That update called for rigorous psychological studies on ethnically diverse groups. However, the research has been slow in coming.

Also, said Sue, the supplemental report to the Surgeon General's 2001 Report on Mental Health-one of the most complete examinations of ethnicity to date-included sections only on what Sue called the traditional populations of focus: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. However, Sue asked, should diversity research be limited to these groups? What about non-Hispanic white ethnicities, women, the elderly, different socioeconomic groups, people with disabilities and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender? These groups also face unique issues, he noted.

Indeed, how researchers can break populations into meaningful groups is an inherent dilemma in ethnically focused research, said Sue. For example, researchers often treat Asian Americans as a homogenous group, but the category actually comprises many cultures and ethnicities.

Also, he asked, how should researchers study these diverse groups? Should they compare them against each other? Should studies continue to use non-Hispanic whites as the standard?

Other factors make it difficult to conduct rigorous, ethnically-diverse research, Sue continued. Studies have limited baseline research and theory to build on. Samples are small and have significant cultural differences, such as different customs and religious beliefs. Cultural and language differences make it difficult to design equivalent procedures, and the research is expensive, he added.

Researchers can address some of these issues by collaborating on studies to increase sample sizes, embedding ethnic exploratory studies in existing, well-tested and well-designed studies, and testing alternative hypothesis using ethnic populations, asserted Sue.

Ethnic-minority research is often controversial and is a reflection of the tensions that exist over racial issues and race relations in America, so it is especially important, he concluded, that the research community confront these issues and give priority to funding and conducting ethnic research.

--L. Meyers