Let’s talk about diversity in personality psychology

In the latest issue of the ARP newsletter, Kelci Harris writes about diversity in ARP. You should read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Personality psychology should be intrinsically interesting to everyone, because, well, everyone has a personality. It’s accessible and that makes our research so fun and an easy thing to talk about with non-psychologists, that is, once we’ve explained to them what we actually do. However, despite what could be a universal appeal, our field is very homogenous. And that’s too bad, because diversity makes for better science. Good research comes from observations. You notice something about the world, and you wonder why that is. It’s probably reasonable to guess that most members of our field have experienced the world in a similar way due to their similar demographic backgrounds. This similarity in experience presents a problem for research because it makes us miss things. How can assumptions be challenged when no one realizes they are being made? What kind of questions will people from different backgrounds have that current researchers could never think of because they haven’t experienced the world in that way?

 In response, Laura Naumann posted a letter to the ARP Facebook wall. Read it too. Another excerpt:

I challenge our field to begin to view those who conduct this type of research [on underrepresented groups] as contributing work that is EQUAL TO and AS IMPORTANT AS “traditional” basic research in personality and social psychology. First, this will require editors of “broad impact” journals to take a critical eye to their initial review process in evaluating what manuscripts are worthy of being sent out to reviewers. I’ve experienced enough frustration sending a solid manuscript to a journal only to have it quickly returned praising the work, but suggesting resubmission to a specialty journal (e.g., ethnic minority journal du jour). The message I receive is that my work is not interesting enough for broad dissemination. If we want a more welcoming field on the personal level, we need to model a welcoming field at the editorial level.

This is a discussion we need to be having. Big applause to Kelci and Laura for speaking out.

Now, what should we be doing? Read what Kelci and Laura wrote — they both have good ideas.

I’ll add a much smaller one, which came up in a conversation on my Facebook wall: let’s collect data. My impressions of what ARP conferences look like are very similar to Kelci’s, but not all important forms of diversity are visible, and if we had hard data we wouldn’t have to rely on impressions. How are the members and conference attendees of ARP and other personality associations distributed by racial and ethnic groups, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, socioeconomic background, and other important dimensions? How do those break down by career stage? And if we collect data over time, is better representation moving up the career ladder, or is the pipeline leaking? I hope ARP will consider collecting this data as part of the membership and conference registration processes going forward, and releasing aggregate numbers. (Maybe they already collect this, but if so, I cannot recall ever seeing any report of it.) With data we will have a better handle on what we’re doing well and what we could be doing better.

What else should we be doing — big or small? This is a conversation that is long overdue and that everybody should be involved in. Let’s have it.

3 thoughts on “Let’s talk about diversity in personality psychology

  1. Philosophy has a movement called the “Gendered Conference Campaign” (http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/gendered-conference-campaign/) which puts pressure on conference organizers to have some gender diversity in their program. There are also similar initiatives with respect to edited volumes, etc. I think similar awareness-raising (about gender, race, and many other forms of diversity) would be a great first step for personality psych. For example, I love ECP, but the 2014 conference has 5 male keynote speakers and one female keynote speaker. The first World Congress on Personality had seven male and one female keynote. Surely we can do better than that.

  2. I agree that just having the conversation, and continuing the conversation, is critically important. I have been in positions where I noticed issues with diversity (e.g., being on and awards committee that ends up with a short list of all white males, even when the pool is reasonably diverse), and it can be an awkward thing to bring up (even though I did and will). It would make a huge difference if this became a regular part of our conversations, such that people didn’t have to feel awkward about raising these concerns or be labeled as “brave” for doing so. Unfortunately, there still is resistance from some people about how/whether these issues should be valued, which means that we need more senior people and members of majority groups talking about it, as well.

  3. I am so thrilled to see raising awareness about this issue among the ARP folks, and a will to deal with it in productive, open, and effective ways.

    Of course, the issue of diversity in ARP’s or EAP’s membership and activities (including leadership positions, awards, invited speakers etc) and the issue of recognizing the study of diversity (in terms of socio-cultural factors such as gender, race, culture, etc.) as a worthy topic in personality research are two separate things. At the same time, as we all know, these issues are often interlinked, although they are not interchangeable! –e.g. cultural personality research is not and should not be seen as the domain of researchers who are cultural minorities themselves, as if these individuals were the only ones motivated to study the role ethno-cultural processes or the only ones with the expertise to do so .. everybody has culture, gender, race!)

    In my own academic work on issues at the interface of personality and culture/ethnicity, I have also seen some intellectual obstacles that we should not ignore. It is my view that many personality folks, perhaps because of their detachment to any thing that may sound social-psychological, are still not ready to acknowledge the inseparability between many personality processes (e.g., personality traits, identity, the self, well-being) and culture, but have no problem acknowledging the biological basis or developmental embeddeness of many personality constructs they work with.

    One last thing. Supporting Kelci Harris’s comments about the benefits of having diversity in our association, there is now strong empirical evidence (published in JPSP, American Psychologist, Psych Science) linking sociocultural diversity experiences (of both minority and majority individuals) and creativity/innovation! (and this link seems to be moderated by one particular personality factor, btw ;-)

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