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Statistics on racial disparities should be paired with context, emphasis on importance of institutional policy in shaping inequality, Stanford scholars say

In a new research paper, Stanford scholars Rebecca Hetey and Jennifer Eberhardt propose new ways to talk about racial disparities that exist across society, from education to health care to criminal justice systems. (Image credit: Getty Images)

May 24 2018

Posted In:

Faculty, In the News, Staff

By Alex Shashkevich

Using statistics to inform the public about racial disparities can backfire. Worse yet, it can cause some people to be more supportive of the policies that create those inequalities, according to new Stanford research.

“One of the barriers of reducing inequality is how some people justify and rationalize it,” said Rebecca Hetey, a Stanford psychology researcher. “A lot of people doing social justice work wonder why attitudes are so immune to change. Our research shows that simply presenting the numbers is not enough.”

If raw numbers don’t always work, what might?

In a new research paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, Hetey and Stanford psychology Professor Jennifer Eberhardt propose strategies anyone could use to talk about racial disparities that exist across society, from education to health care and criminal justice systems.

Facts should be accompanied with context that challenges stereotypes, the researchers said, noting that discussions should emphasize the importance of policies in shaping racial inequalities.