Dr. Eleanor Murphy is a psychology research scientist and assistant professor of clinical psychology at the New York Psychiatric Institute. Her current research involves genetics, psychology, mood and anxiety disorders, how the environment affects mental health, and the differences in mental health among racial and ethnic groups, including African Americans. In this article, Dr. Murphy explains the benefits are of being involved in research and why research takes a long time.
Q: Many African Americans and other ethnic groups are very distrustful of research because of projects in the past (like Tuskegee) that mistreated the people involved. How does this impact the research you do with African American communities?
A: African Americans do have some legitimate concerns about what the research is going to be used to do. In the past, some researchers have done studies that didn’t use real scientific methods, and have used the results they got to make statements about genetics or biology and promote harmful stereotypes about African Americans. Because of this, many African Americans, quite understandably, are hesitant to participate in research because they are wary about who actually benefits from it.
But people should know that many legal protections have been put in place to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen. It is an expectation that medical research should not harm anyone involved in it and that it might be able to improve people’s health over time.
Q: Could you give us an example of how research might benefit community members?
A: Sure, let’s take sickle cell disease as an example. The gene for sickle cell disease is more common among African Americans than whites. In the past, people might have used this information to raise insurance premiums for African Americans, just because their genetics made them have a greater chance for having sickle cell disease.
We could instead use this genetic knowledge to spread information about sickle cell disease to you, your family, and your community. We can use what we know about the genetics to teach your community more, improve your quality of life, and give people treatment options that are right for them. It’s situations like this in genetics and research that make us ask how the information will be used. The concerns African Americans have are very legitimate and we should take them seriously as researchers.
For more Harlem Word articles with Dr. Eleanor Murphy, see the following:
Harlem Word: Dr. Eleanor Murphy talks about her research with African Americans, genetics, and mental health (Part I)
Harlem Word: Dr. Eleanor Murphy talks about her research with African Americans, genetics, and mental health (Part II)
Harlem Word: Dr. Eleanor Murphy talks about why it's important to do research for African Americans