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Brain studies weakened by lack of diversity in participants

| | November 7, 2017

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

[S]ocial sciences [tend] to focus on people from WEIRD societies—that is, Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. The results of such studies are often taken to represent humanity at large, even though their participants are drawn from a “particularly thin and rather unusual slice” of it.

Kaja LeWinn, from the University of California, San Francisco, demonstrated this by reanalyzing data from a large study that scanned 1,162 children ages 3 to 18 to see how their brain changed as they grew up. The kids came from disproportionately wealthy and well-educated families, so LeWinn adjusted the data to see what it would look like if they had been more representative of the U.S. population.

When LeWinn weighted her data for factors such as sex, ethnicity, and wealth, the results looked very different from the original set. The brain as a whole developed faster than previously thought, and some parts matured earlier relative to others. Natalie Brito, from New York University, says that this study “clearly shows how our interpretation of brain development changes based off who is being represented within the sample.”

Brain-scanning studies are getting bigger, and researchers are making more of an effort to recruit samples that are at least representative of the local community—if not America as a whole.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: How a Focus on Rich Educated People Skews Brain Studies 

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