History of Minorities in Psychology

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  • 0:03 Psychological Research
  • 1:11 Participants
  • 3:20 Researchers
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Psychology is a diverse field and works best when it includes many different views. However, it wasn't always so accepting. In this lesson, we'll look at the history of minorities in psychology as both participants and researchers.

Psychological Research

Carrie is a white psychology student in a freshman psychology course. As she reads her textbook, she can't help but notice that almost all of the psychological studies use white men as their research subjects. Carrie wonders whether this fact has biased some of the research studies she is learning about. Are white males really representative of all other human beings? She discusses her observation with her friend Jerry, a black psychology student, who agrees that there seems to be a bias in the research. Carrie decides to investigate if race has played a role in the study of human nature, and how minorities were involved in psychology in the past.

Psychological research is the scientific study of the way people think, feel, and behave. Historically, research has been focused on white men. They were the ones who were doing most of the research and on whom most of the research was done. The contributions of racial minorities in the history of psychological research have often been overlooked. To help Carrie understand these contributions better, let's look at minority races in psychological research, both as participants and researchers.


Carrie loves psychology. She's always reading about a new study that sheds light on how people are. For each of these studies, there are participants, or people on whom or about whom research is being done. For example, last year Carrie read a study that college students do better on tests if they study in the same room as they take the test. The college students that were studied in the research were the study's participants.

Most psychological studies are done at higher education institutions. As a result, the most readily available participants are college students. It's very common for studies to have college students as the participants. But historically, this could pose a problem: most college students in the past were white men aged 18 to 22. That means that the participants of those research studies were mostly white men aged 18 to 22. That's not very inclusive!

Of course, there were exceptions. Early examples of psychological research using minority participants mostly focused on the differences between the races. For example, a study might look at the academic success of racial minorities and compare that to the academic success of white students.

One famous early example of research about racial minorities was a study of discrimination done by Richard LaPiere in the early 1930s. He had his Chinese-American students go to many different restaurants and hotels across the country. Most of the restaurants accepted them as customers. But when LaPiere then sent letters asking those same establishments if they'd allow Asian Americans to patronize their businesses, the majority of them said they wouldn't. This study showed that people's attitudes and actions about race didn't always match up. This is a classic example of early research about race.

As college demographics have shifted, so too have research participant pools. More and more racial minorities are attending college and participating in psychological research. Take Carrie's friend Jerry: he's a black psychology major who regularly participates in research studies. The participation of minority students like Jerry helps make sure that racial minorities are represented as participants in studies.


Jerry isn't just interested in being a participant in research, though. Like Carrie, he wants to be a researcher, or a person who designs and runs scientific studies. As already noted, most psychological research is done at institutes of higher learning. As a result, researchers are commonly college professors. Like participant pools, this historically offered a challenge: most college professors were white men. As a result, most researchers were white men.

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