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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Stereotypes harm health care


    Photo Illustration by Kyle Hansen 

    UA researchers are studying stereotypes in the medical profession. Previous research has shown that Hispanic patients are less likely to receive information on things such as obesity counseling and cancer-screening recommendations than non-Hispanic white patients. 

    UA psychology professor Jeff Stone has found evidence that nursing and medical students exhibit greater nonconscious stereotyping toward Hispanic individuals compared to non-Hispanic white individuals.

    Prior research has shown that Hispanic patients are less likely to receive information on critical long-term health outcomes, like obesity counseling, smoking cessation advice and cancer screening recommendations than non-Hispanic white patients.

    “The psychological idea is when you see a non-Hispanic white or Hispanic face, concepts that we associate with these groups will come to mind,” said Elizabeth Focella, an author of the study. “And what we hypothesized is that when seeing an image of a Hispanic person, nursing and medical students are going to have certain stereotypes activate.”

    In Stone’s study, nursing and medical students completed a sequential priming task consisting of five components. The first two consisted of showing students a blank screen followed by a visual mask. Then, a critical image of either a Hispanic or a non-Hispanic white face would appear for 15 milliseconds. Afterward, the visual mask would show again. The last component to appear was a letter string that prompted participants to make a decision. Participants were instructed to press certain keys to indicate whether the letter string was a word they recognized or not. 

    The task measured the speed it took participants to recognize words related to noncompliance and health risk after subliminal exposure to the faces. Words semantically related to noncompliance or risky health behavior included “uncooperative” or “damage.” The images of the faces were pre-tested to be similar in age and attractiveness. 

    Stone explained that in accordance with the hypothesis, recognition of noncompliance, risk and general stereotype words was faster after exposure to Hispanic faces.

    “I think this research and the results are an important contribution because a great deal of research documents clinician stereotyping of African American patients,” Focella said. “Here, we are documenting stereotyping against Hispanic patients.”

    Stone is currently teaching UA medical and nursing students strategies on how to reduce the prevalence of stereotypes in their thinking.

    “What the research shows is that there are a lot of ways of reducing implicit bias,” Stone said. “What I teach the medical and nursing students about is being aware of when you’re likely to exhibit these biases — so when we’re working very fast, we’re very tired or we have too much on our mind. Then we are more likely to rely on simple rules and heuristics, and stereotypes are simple rules.”

    Stone suggested that focusing on what you share with somebody tends to shut off biases as well.

    Furthermore, research has shown that focusing on being an egalitarian or fair person could also be an effective strategy.

    “We call it activating your egalitarian goals,” Stone said. “What we try to teach people is that, when you meet someone who is different, rather than using race, ethnicity and gender as a way of categorizing and begin stereotyping, use race, ethnicity and gender differences as a cue to be fair.”


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