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Significant Deficits in Representation in Psychiatric Research Studies

May 3, 2022

A team of researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, led by associate professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, Sarah L. Pedersen, PhD, published findings from a new study examining the lack of representation of minorities and socio-demographic data in psychiatric research studies. The study was published in May 2022 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Collaborating with Dr. Pedersen on this study was Rachel Lindstrom, PhD, Paula M. Powe, MD, Kelly Louie, BS, and César Escobar-Viera, MD, PhD, all from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Study Overview and Highlights

Dr. Pedersen’s team analyzed 125 research papers published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2019 and 2020. Their analysis was designed to examine how representative study samples were regarding ethnic and racial identities, and assigned sex at birth relative to the general population. The project also sought to understand to what extent socio-demographic characteristics and identifying measures, such as gender identity and sexual orientation, were measured and described in these studies.

"Underrepresentation of individuals with minoritized racial or ethnic identities in research studies and clinical trials is a known, long-standing issue across all medicine. Our project shows the persistence of this problem and the almost complete lack of reporting of LGBTQIA+ identities. Increasing representation in research and accurate description of sociodemographic characteristics is crucial for achieving health equity and improving care," says Dr. Pedersen.

Dr. Pedersen's team found that while nearly all studies — 90% — included participant age, and a high percentage — 84% — recorded the participants' sex or gender (a notable limitation is that these studies did not differentiate between assigned sex or gender identity), fewer than half of the studies analyzed — 43% — captured expressed information on participant’s racial or ethnic identities.

Asian American and Latino/Hispanic individuals had the highest rates of lack of representation in studies — 78%. In studies in the U.S. collecting genetic samples, only 24.7% of the participants were female.

"The bottom line is that significant chunks of the U.S. population are not being included in psychiatric research, and there are large deficits in the data being collected (or described) on participants. This lack of information or poorly collected sociodemographic data can skew results. We know that there are considerable inequities in psychiatric illnesses," says Dr. Pedersen. "We found only two studies in our analysis that examined contributors to these inequities. It will take concerted efforts from researchers, journals, and funding agencies to address these long-standing issues that our study highlights, but tools and guidelines do exist that can steer our field and others in the right direction."

Learn more about Dr. Pedersen and her colleague’s work at the Youth and Family Research Program in the Department of Psychiatry


Pedersen SL, Lindstrom R, Powe PM, Louie K, Escobar-Viera C. Lack of Representation in Psychiatric Research: A Data Driven Example From Scientific Articles Published in 2019 and 2020 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Am J Psych. 2022. In Press.