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Evaluating Research on the Psychology of Diversity

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are interested in the psychology of diversity, you might want some good ways to evaluate the research you read. This lesson discusses what it means to evaluate research on the psychology of diversity.

Why Evaluate Research?

Elena is a psychology student who is especially interested in learning about the psychology of diversity, or how human mental processes interact with the ways we understand and relate to difference.

Elena believes strongly that a diverse environment enriches individual and group perspectives and makes for a more just society, but she also knows that over the course of her life, she will be responsible for backing up these statements with evidence.

Since diversity is such an important topic, Elena knows that many researchers are studying the connection between diversity and different branches of psychology, including emotions, cognition, and social functioning.

She wants to learn how to evaluate this research so that she can determine:

  • Whether it is relevant to her own beliefs and behavior
  • How she would explain its conclusions to someone who disagrees with it
  • What implications it has for life, work, and future research endeavors, perhaps even including her own

Evaluating Questions and Assumptions

Right now, Elena is looking at an article that studies that ways young children think about and come to understand race and racial identity. Elena starts by evaluating the research question. She believes that any psychologically oriented article should start with a question or set of questions that the researcher set out to answer.

The question should be clearly stated so that the reader knows what they are investigating. In the article Elena is reading, the researchers are asking, 'How do young children develop a sense of racial identity in the preschool setting?'

Elena knows that when she looks at a research question, she should use the following criteria:

  • Is it clear and specific?
  • Is it a question I am personally interested in?
  • Has the question been addressed elsewhere, and do the authors acknowledge this?
  • What assumptions are embedded in the question?

Elena knows that all research contains assumptions, or preconceived notions on the part of the researcher. As she evaluates research, she tries to get at what these assumptions are and how they impact the researchers' writing, methodologies, and interpretations.

For instance, in this article, Elena thinks the authors assume that it is good for children to develop a racial identity when they are young. This is a normative assumption, or an assumption about how things ought to be.

Elena happens to agree with this assumption, but she wishes the authors had articulated it more explicitly so that readers could determine their own personal perspectives.

Evaluating Research Methodologies

Next, Elena knows it is important to evaluate research methodologies, or the systems by which the researchers went about answering their questions. In psychology, there can be quantitative, statistical, methodologies, qualitative methodologies, which do not use statistic, or mixed methods, which use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data.

Elena knows there is not a single 'right' methodology to use in the psychology of diversity. When she evaluates methodology, she asks these questions:

  • Does the methodology seem adequate to answer the question?
  • Do the researchers explain their methodology clearly and apply it consistently and ethically?
  • Does the data the researchers present derive from the methodology they have explained?

The article Elena is reading uses interviews with and work samples from young children, which are coded and analyzed in a way that the authors clearly explain using theoretical methodological work. Elena understands that the same research question could have been, and might still be, examined using different methods, and the conclusions may or may not be the same.

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