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Racial and ethnic socioenvironmental inequity and neuroimaging in psychiatry: a brief review of the past and recommendations for the future

Abstract

Neuroimaging is a major tool that holds immense translational potential for understanding psychiatric disorder phenomenology and treatment. However, although epidemiological and social research highlights the many ways inequity and representativeness influences mental health, there is a lack of consideration of how such issues may impact neuroimaging features in psychiatric research. More specifically, the potential extent to which racialized inequities may affect underlying neurobiology and impact the generalizability of neural models of disorders is unclear. The present review synthesizes research focused on understanding the potential consequences of racial/ethnic inequities relevant to neuroimaging in psychiatry. We first discuss historical and contemporary drivers of inequities that persist today. We then discuss the neurobiological consequences of these inequities as revealed through current research, and note emergent research demonstrating the impact such inequities have on our ability to use neuroimaging to understand psychiatric disease. We end with a set of recommendations and practices to move the field towards more equitable approaches that will advance our abilities to develop truly generalizable neurobiological models of psychiatric disorders.

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Fig. 1: Overview of potential biases and their contribution to poorly generalized neuroimaging models of psychiatric disorders.
Fig. 2: Overview of core threat neurocircuitry.

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Funding

This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health K01MH129828 to NGH, a Harvard Catalyst PDFI Fellowship to NGH, a Brain and Behavior Research Foundation Young Investigator Award to NGH, and a National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health R01AT011267 to NF.

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Harnett, N.G., Merrill, L.C. & Fani, N. Racial and ethnic socioenvironmental inequity and neuroimaging in psychiatry: a brief review of the past and recommendations for the future. Neuropsychopharmacol. (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-024-01901-7

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