In Brief

A new set of research guidelines is encouraging psychologists to step outside of Western/Eurocentric thinking in their collection and interpretation of data on ethnic minorities. Five ethnic-minority psychological associations collaborated on the "Guidelines for Research in Ethnic Minority Communities," which, while not comprehensive, focus on the problems researchers create when they assume that the characteristics or mindset within one group represent all minorities.

"We tend to put an 'ethnic gloss' on research where populations are treated as homogeneous--and that's nonsense." says Joseph Trimble, PhD, president of Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues), a group involved in the guideline development. "Navajo Indians are very different than Sioux, and we run into major problems when we lump everyone into a research plan without seeing how their respective cultures affect them."

Behind the guidelines project are the Council of National Psychological Associations for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Interests, whose members include APA's Div. 45, the Society of Indian Psychologists, the National Hispanic Psychological Association, the Association of Black Psychologists and the Asian American Psychological Association. APA's Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs (OEMA) coordinated the project, compiling each association's contribution into one publication.

The document is broken down into four sections: Hispanics, American Indian/Alaska Natives, Asian American/ Pacific Islanders and people of African descent. Each section examines methodology issues/considerations, research design/questions, assessment, and interpretation, and discusses how these are influenced by such factors as race/ethnicity, language, beliefs, acculturation and biased assumptions of minorities.

The guidelines offer general reminders for researchers to consider, such as:

  • How much does socioeconomic status affect results?

  • On what basis can we expect findings to translate to the entire ethnic minority group?

  • Will the researcher need a cultural informant or an expert in the area?

In some instances, the guidelines offer specific examples of researchers' inappropriate assumptions. For example, American Indians with more traditional values see money as a sacred gift, and may be offended if researchers offer them money to participate in a study. The guidelines suggest presenting food or offering to donate money for the good of the whole community, such as a tribal scholarship fund.

The guidelines' authors caution that the effort is not comprehensive. The guidelines do not go into great detail about every aspect of ethnic-minority research--rather, they are intended to serve more as a discussion piece to get psychologists to think about the cultural relevancy of their research and to consult experts in the field when questions cannot be resolved. The guidelines promote culture sensitivity as a major concern to psychologists and the people they study.

"Perhaps the guidelines will help people look deeper than superficial characteristics," says Trimble.

To receive a copy of the guidelines, contact OEMA at (202) 336-6029.

--M. WATERS