Psychology, Grief and African Americans

In recent weeks there has been a lot of public discussion about whether psychological research findings can be reproduced. Underneath this concern are other lurking questions such as: Is the science of psychology objective? Is it representative of people’s realities? What can psychological research tell us about people’s experiences?

My colleague Tal Peleg-Sagy and I wanted to find out. In a set of studies that will be published in the academic journals Death Studies and Transcultural Psychiatry, we reviewed all the scientific literature on grief and loss published between 1998-2014 that included African Americans. We were interested in exploring what research exists on African Americans and grief and if these studies included the participant’s socioeconomic status, education, and ethnicity. This is important information because social and financial class impacts how well people cope with grief.

Our results were surprising. Although African Americans make up 13% of the population, out of thousands of studies on grief, only 31 published papers focused exclusively on African Americans experiences’ of loss. We found only 28 additional studies that included African Americans and whites together in their research.

Even more distressing than the small number of studies was the focus of the research. Articles that were solely on African Americans overwhelmingly focused on homicide, parental loss, and reproductive losses. For example, out of the 31 studies that looked at African Americans, 13 focused on homicide. The over-emphasis on research caused by traumatic loss may have to do with the fact that African Americans are more likely to experience the murder of a loved one than whites in the United States, however, this is just one out of many types of losses this community may experience and does not explain the research imbalance.

The research that used mixed ethnic —> Read More