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When conducting longitudinal research, it can be challenging to recruit racially and ethnically diverse participants—and few things are more frustrating than having a number of study participants drop out prematurely. With this in mind, we were interested in examining the role of race/ethnicity on attrition in a longitudinal trauma study forthcoming in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
Racial/ethnic differences in attrition have been understudied in trauma research. Of the relatively few studies assessing attrition, findings are mixed. When racial/ethnic differences have been found, minority participants were more likely to drop out compared to non-Hispanic, White (i.e., majority) participants (Cukor et al., 2011; Lester, Artz, Resick, & Young-Xu, 2010; Sharkansky et al., 2000; Updegraff, Silver, & Holman, 2008). These studies provide limited insight about possible contributing factors such as age, education, or symptom severity.
In our study, we wanted to assess for possible racial/ethnic differences in attrition. We were also interested in examining whether racial/ethnic differences on other study variables influenced attrition rates.
We conducted a secondary data analysis using longitudinal data from 686 undergraduate women (462 non-Hispanic, White women, 224 minority women) who were exposed to a mass campus shooting. These women had been enrolled in a study examining sexual revictimization when a campus shooting occurred on February 14, 2008 at Northern Illinois University. The original study aims were then modified to include investigating reactions to this tragic event.
Participants completed questionnaires related to lifetime trauma exposure, physical exposure to the shooting, physical and psychological well-being, and reactions to research participation across seven time points. Surveys were administered in 6-month time intervals with the exception of the first survey, collected prior to the shooting, and the second, collected one month after the shooting.
Minority women were 1.45 times more likely to dropout than majority women. But race/ethnicity did not interact with other study variables to influence attrition. This also suggests that the loss of minority participants did not appear to bias longitudinal findings. Interestingly, women who were older at the outset of the study were also more likely to drop out than younger women.
Findings from our study seem to raise more questions than answers. There were evident racial/ethnic differences in attrition rates, but we gained little indication as to why. Cultural factors were not assessed in this study, raising the question: Could cross-cultural differences have influenced willingness to participate and engage in research? Future studies might consider conducting qualitative follow-up studies with non-responders, especially those from diverse racial/ethnic groups, to gain a better understanding of specific causes of attrition.

Discussion Questions

  1. Should there be standard practices for assessing and reporting the effects of attrition on longitudinal results in spite of study aims?
  2. What other factors might contribute to racial/ethnic differences in attrition in trauma research?

Reference Article 

Boykin, D. M., London, M. J., & Orcutt, H. K. (2016). Examining Minority Attrition Among Women in Longitudinal Trauma ResearchJournal of traumatic stress.

Author Biographies

Derrecka M. Boykin, MA, is a doctoral clinical psychology student at Northern Illinois University. Her research has primarily focused on investigating risk factors and biopsychosocial consequences of traumatic exposure, with an emphasis on PTSD symptomatology. She also has interests in assessing mechanisms underlying treatment seeking, engagement, effectiveness, and outcomes among trauma survivors.
Melissa J. London, MA, is a doctoral clinical psychology student at Northern Illinois University. Her research program has focused on trauma psychology with an emphasis on risk and resiliency factors for psychological consequences of trauma. Specifically, she has focused on the role of cognitive and emotion regulation processes as well as understanding the cultural variation in response to and during recovery from violence and trauma.
Holly K. Orcutt, PhD, is a professor in the psychology department at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include mechanisms for reducing psychological suffering, particularly following exposure to potentially traumatic events. 


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Lester, K., Artz, C., Resick, P., & Young-Xu, Y. (2010). Impact of race on early termination and outcomes in posttraumatic stress disorder treatment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78, 480-489. doi:10.1037/a0019551
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