New projects study root causes of inequalities and how to reduce their effects

Fifteen projects — from improving doctor-patient communications for high-risk patients, to using data to understand racial differences in how Americans handle civil legal problems, to better understanding the factors that influence success and well-being of Hmong-American students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison — have been chosen for the Understanding and Reducing Inequalities Initiative. 

The 15 projects — two of which come from psychology faculty — were selected from 73 proposals. The initiative is funded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

“The proposals we received are evidence of the exceptionally wide breadth of research on our campus targeting inequalities based on factors such as race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation and geography,” says Lonnie Berger, associate vice chancellor for research in the social sciences. “The projects will help build a body of evidence that can contribute to addressing these varied and complex inequalities with implications for reducing both them and their ill effects. They stand to produce real-world, actionable knowledge about how programs, policies and practices can be leveraged to reduce inequalities in U.S. society.”

The initiative is designed to support research that moves beyond scholarship that just describes the causes and consequences of inequalities; the emphasis is also on producing real-word, evidence-based solutions for reducing a host of inequalities on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, economic standing, language, minority status, country of origin and immigration status.

The chosen projects rely on a variety of methods ranging from surveys, field experiments and in-depth interviews to collect new data and on analyzing existing data, evaluating training programs and assessing case studies.

“Although inequality is pervasive, these projects provide innovative ideas about how to meet some of society’s greatest challenges. The research portfolio supported by this initiative is broadly interdisciplinary, drawing on ideas and tools from sociology, psychology, pharmacy, education, law and beyond,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “These projects will greatly enhance the UW­–Madison research landscape in an area of critical societal need and engage with our broader communities in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.”

For example, one project from psychology professor Markus Brauer — Doctor-Patient Communication and Shared Decision Making with High-Risk Patients — examines how to improve communication between white doctors and patients of color and how to build patients’ trust in their doctor.

The projects and their principal investigators and co-PIs include the following professors of psychology:

Doctor-Patient Communication and Shared Decision Making with High-Risk Patients
Markus Brauer, professor of psychology

A Parent-Led Intervention to Reduce Children’s Racial Biases
Patricia Devine, professor of psychology
Kristin Shutts, professor of psychology
Colleen Halliday, professor at the Medical University of South Carolina

This article has been adapted from the original news story; find a list of all projects in the full article by Natasha Kassulke here