Hair, Hair for Equity in Neuroscience Research

Published: Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Rachel Romeo, a University of Maryland assistant professor of education, wants to shine a light on kids’ early development—literally. Using a technique called Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS), she beams light into the brain from sensors on a stretchy black cap, pinpointing blood flow to measure brain activity.

But in summer 2022, she realized she would have a hard time including a swath of the population in her study, because that light can’t easily penetrate Afro-textured hair, which is dark and densely curled. Yet her focus is on socioeconomic disparities in learning and development; she had to find a way to work with kids from all backgrounds.

“Most of the time in neuroscience research, if you can't get a good signal from a participant, you just exclude them or you throw that data away,” said Romeo, who directs the Language, Experience, and Development (LEAD) Lab. “This contributes to underrepresentation.”  Read more






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