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UW News discusses the lack of diversity in research subjects and cites a paper by Laura Brady, Yuichi Shoda and Stephanie Fryberg, in this article

Why culture is key to improving the ‘interpretive power’ of psychology

Kim Eckart, UW News

In psychology, there often is a common demographic among research subjects. And among the researchers, themselves. And, in its own way, among research questions, processes and interpretations.

A few years ago, a University of British Columbia research team noticed this trend and came up with an acronym for this demographic: WEIRD, or Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic. WEIRD people, WEIRD research, WEIRD-generalized results.

The trouble is, three University of Washington researchers say in a new article, that the field of psychology tends to overlook, or even leave out, people, cultures and issues that could be labeled “non-WEIRD”: people of color, of different socioeconomic classes, levels of education and cultural traditions. And that has implications for how the science is interpreted and applied, and how it actually reflects society.

While ideas of diversity aren’t new to the field, the actual process of diversifying has been slow in coming. It’s time, the UW authors say, to change.

“We’re talking about an entire field that has many people and institutions, and how you change longstanding practices and functions,” said Laura Brady, a research scientist in the UW Department of Psychology.  “We’re saying, take a step back and ask, what is the culture cycle that drives the practices in our field? Let’s look at what our institutions can do, practically speaking, to get more people paying attention to culture, and build a knowledge base with a working understanding of how culture shapes people’s behaviors and thoughts.”

Brady wrote the article, along with UW psychology professors Stephanie Fryberg and Yuichi Shoda. The piece was published online Nov. 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper represents a call to action, the authors say, to enhance the “interpretive power” of psychology — “the ability to understand individuals’ experiences and behaviors in relation to their cultural contexts.” They point to various ways that existing practices overlook the importance of culture, and to how individuals and institutions can be more inclusive.

Read the entire article here.