Perspective-Taking in Addressing Health Disparities
in Health Outcomes

Addressing health disparities in health outcomes for groups that have experienced discrimination is an important priority for every healthcare provider.  Advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion in health care have often advocated for perspective-taking, that is, attempting to understand the thoughts, experiences, and feelings of groups that have experienced discrimination.  Researchers have found that perspective-taking does reduce biases and stereotyping and improves relationships between groups.  However, researchers usually find these effects in lab studies and have struggled to find ways to encourage perspective-taking outside of the lab.

Fortunately, one recent study has found interesting evidence of a method for encouraging perspective-taking in applied settings.  Researchers at the University of California asked participants to view pictures depicting historical incidents of racial discrimination in medicine, which included a description of the person in the picture.  The pictures depicted images such as Fannie Lou Hamer who was sterilized by her doctor without her consent and subsequently became a Civil Rights leader.  Participants who saw these pictures and read these stories were more likely to engage in perspective taking which led to greater support for policies that would remedy disparities in health outcomes for minority populations.  These findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

What was interesting about the study was the researchers’ exploration of how to encourage perspective taking.  They found that asking participants to attempt to take the perspective of the victims of racism did not lead to greater perspective taking.  Likewise, providing stories of medical professionals from minority groups who contributed significantly to the medical professional also did not lead to perspective-taking.  Only by presenting the stories of historical medical discrimination did participants engage in perspective-taking which led to the positive outcomes the researchers measured.

Improving health outcomes is an important goal for any healthcare provider.  Perspective-taking is an important tool that healthcare organizations can consider using to improve those outcomes.

Interested in learning more?  Join our discussion on inclusive practices and consider benchmarking your DEI budgets using our DEI MarCom benchmarking tool. Reach out to Cody Cox today to learn more.


Cody Cox PhD

Executive Director – Research, Endeavor Institute

Dr. Cox has over 20 years of thought leadership in developing and applying empirical data in order for organizations to better understand cultural and leadership challenges in the workforce such as ensuring safety behavior, diminishing sterotype bias and mitigating generational differences. Cody’s research and work as to how leadership should anticipate and deal with workforce challenges has been recognized in having published over 19 peer-reviewed papers and as a frequent speaker at national conferences on the topics of cultural stewardship, leadership and workforce engagement.

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