Bias and Language in Behavioral Sciences Research and Analysis

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

In our previous post, we discussed the principles of ethical research and disclosure of funding sources. Now let’s explore avoiding funder bias and using inclusive language in the research and analysis of behavioral health.

Guarding against Funder Bias and Other Bias

Just as reporters should be committed to honest journalism, behavioral scientists have the professional and moral obligation to conduct fair, unbiased research and analysis.

In the health services industry, research findings can educate funders, practitioners and potential patients of the effectiveness of a new form of treatment and prevention. Scientific findings may also be used to help develop more effective programs.

Unfortunately, there’s the reality that some organizations may fund the research with the expectation that the scientists will sway the study to achieve results that place their company and its offerings in a positive light.

To avoid funder bias, researchers should only participate in research and analysis that puts no pressure on them to coerce participants, modify tests to yield positive results or alter conclusions. Remove all personal beliefs and values, perceptions and emotions during the course of the study, so as not to produce a biased outcome. As a researcher, you have a responsibility to be honest, objective and give no reason for people to distrust your work.

Using Inclusive Language

Non-stigmatizing terminology that is applied with care, while maintaining awareness and consideration of your audience’s diversity, communicates that you want to create a fair and respectful atmosphere for education. This is why inclusive language is crucial in the research and analysis of behavioral sciences.

Inclusive language helps foster respectful relationships. It is free of prejudice and stereotypes. It is language aimed to not exclude people based on personal characteristics such as their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, socioeconomic status, appearance and so on. Inclusive language does not imply judgment or assign value. Some examples of inclusive language in behavioral health include using “substance use disorder” instead of “addiction” or “mental health patient” instead of “mentally ill person.”

At Turnaround Life, Inc., it is our mission to design and evaluate systems and programs that help people turn their lives around. Through development, evaluation, education and capacity building, we are here to meet your needs. For more information about us, visit our website.

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