Pulse Lab

Project Title"Effects of Race and Socioeconomic Status on Medical Misdiagnosis of Child Abuse"
Project PICynthia Najdowski

Project Summary: Recent cases involving legal appeals, acquittals, and exonerations have shined a light on medical misdiagnosis of child abuse as a source of wrongful convictions. Given that Blacks and lower social status individuals are disproportionately more likely to be implicated in child abuse (e.g., Flaherty et al., 2008) and wrongfully convicted (see Najdowski, 2011), research is needed to also illuminate the psychological processes by which racial and social class biases contribute to medical misdiagnosis of child abuse. This is the overarching goal of the current research. Specifically, I will administer an experimental survey to medical professionals to test whether a fictitious child patient’s race or socioeconomic background influences the probability that the child is diagnosed with child abuse. I propose that racial and social class biases will manifest in differential diagnoses. Moreover, I predict that these effects will be explained by the activation of stereotypes that link crime, violence, and child abuse to Blacks and lower social status individuals (see, e.g., Devine, 1989; Gelles, 1979; Krowchuk, 1989) which, in turn, produce confirmation bias and tunnel vision in information processing. I also expect stereotyping effects and biased information-processing strategies to be exacerbated by certain contextual cues (e.g., involvement of child protective services [CPS]) that support the hypothesis that a child’s symptoms are the product of abuse. This work will contribute to the basic social psychological literature by exploring (a) the content of stereotypes related to race, social class, and child abuse and (b) how those stereotypes affect decision making in the novel context of medicine. The results have real-world implications, too, as they will enhance understanding of how racial and social class bias contribute to medical misdiagnoses related to not only child abuse but also other stereotypical diseases (e.g., obesity, drug abuse). This research will be foundational for the development of safeguards aimed at curbing bias in medical contexts, preventing misdiagnoses, and encouraging careful evaluation of ambiguous cases in which misdiagnosis could have legal implications, thereby reducing social welfare and legal intervention as well as the likelihood of wrongful convictions.

Sponsoring  Agency: American Psychological Foundation

Current Students:
Kim Bernstein

Contact Information
Telephone: (518) 591-8786
E-mail: cnajdowski@albany.edu
FAX: (518) 442-5603