Culture Bias In Psychology

Culture Bias in Psychology including Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism:

Culture Bias in Psychology is when a piece or pieces of research are conducted in one culture and the findings are generalised and said to apply to lots of different cultures. Cultural bias can also be seen when designing research, the process by which data is obtained can lead to culturally bias results. For example, an IQ test measuring Western IQ could be written to ‘favour’ Western cultures. Using this test in Non-Western cultures could cause a bias in the results simply because the test is measuring something from the bench marks of different cultural experiences.

Ethnocentrism: Refers to the use of our own ethnic or cultural groups as a basis for judgements about other groups. There is a tendency to view the beliefs, customs and behaviours of our own group as ‘normal’ and even superior, whereas those of other groups are ‘strange’ or deviant. ��

(a) Can lead to Alpha Bias: Because one’s own culture is considered to be different and better, and the consequences of this is that other cultures and their practices are devalued. For example, in individualistic cultures independence is valued and dependence devalued, whereas in collectivist cultures dependence seems to be more highly valued.

(b) Can lead to Beta-Bias: If psychologists believe their world view is the only view. For example, in the case of IQ testing – the western IQ test was used across the world because there was an assumption that the American standard was universal.

Culture Bias – Example of Ethnocentrism in Psychological Research:

Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Research can be seen to be ethnocentric due to the fact that the research procedure was developed in the United States and is based on the US views of what is seen as ‘important’ in caregiver-infant attachment (is based purely on US values). Non-US participants in the Strange Situation study are going to be judged according to US standards and bench marks.

Culturally Bias research in Psychology can lead to Imposed Etics:

(a) An ETIC approach looks at behaviours from the outside of a given culture and attempts to describe behaviours that are universal. Mary Ainsworth’s study can be criticised for imposed etic due to the fact that methodology she uses is based on US views and standards, therefore the judgement of attachment types when using this methodology reflects US practices in child rearing (regardless of the nationality of the infant being assessed for attachment type. For example, infants from Japan were judged as being ‘resistant’ due to the distress the infants displayed during the ‘separation phase’ of the research. However, the practice in Japan is for caregiver and infant to spend all their time together (often co-sleeping in the same bed until early infanthood), therefore, this upset during the ‘separation’ part of the research displays not a ‘resistant’ attachment type but, rather a lack of experience being separated from their caregiver.

(b) AN EMIC approach looks within/inside cultures and identified behaviours that are specific to that culture. Operating under this approach would see Psychologists truly emerging themselves in a specific culture, developing an understanding of that culture’s practices and developing research procedures, interpreting research findings with just that culture in mind. Psychological procedures would not be used across cultures where such research procedures might created invalid results.

Berry argues that psychology is often guilty of making imposed etics, developing universal models and theories of human behaviour which comes about through studying one particular culture. Psychologists should be more mindful of cultural relativism.

Cultural Relativism:

Definition of Cultural Relativism: The idea that the things that are observed in research may only make sense (i.e. they are only relative) fromthe perspective of the culture being observed – they cannot be applied to different cultures.

Implications of Cultural Bias in Psychological Research:

Carrying our culturally bias research in Psychology can lead to a number of negative side effects which calls in question the practice of Psychology. On the other hand, carrying out Psychological research can make us more ‘aware’ of cultural variations and differences. Research findings highlighting cultural differences can then be used to improve life experiences and modify practices creating more cultural inclusivity.

(1) Cultural bias in research can lead to negative consequences:

One of the most infamous examples of the damage that can be created by cultural bias was the US Army IQ tests used just before the First World War. The tests showed that European immigrants fell slightly below white Americans in terms of IQ and that African Americans were at the bottom of the scale with the lowest mental age.

Such research could lead to a number of (incorrect) negative implications/beliefs developing, individuals may be mislead to believe that European immigrants and African Americans are not as ‘intelligent’ or as ‘well educated’ as White Americans. This could lead to pre-existing discrimination being reinforced, such false findings could be used to prevent African Americans and European immigrants from being assigned certain jobs and could create a false hierarchy in society.

(2) A major ADVANTAGE of increasing the awareness of cultural bias is that it has had major practical and theoretical applications and therefore has had a major contribution to Psychology.

By identifying the possible issues of cultural bias, we have significantly increased our understanding of the impact of culture, of cultural differences and also of culture specific behaviours. This has had major benefits, for example in the diagnosis of mental illness where culture specific behaviours were often mis-diagnosed as symptomatic of psychological abnormality. Recent issues of diagnostic manuals such as the DSM now include a list of culture specific behaviours. This is a major step forward as such understanding of cultural differences and variations can lead to more accurate diagnosis of mental health issues. A recognition of cultural differences leads to less discrimination.

(3) Psychologists have to be careful not to over emphasise cultural bias in contemporary psychological research, especially with the individualistic vs collectivist distinction.

In the past, the great distinction between cultures was whether they were INDIVIDUALISTIC or COLLECTIVIST. Individualistic cultures (like the West, USA) value independence, personal freedom and individual achievement. Collectivist cultures such as India and China are said to place more emphasis on interdependence and the needs of the group.

However, critics have argued that the development of modern society, in particular the increased interconnectedness between cultures, means that this distinction largely does not apply.  For example, TAKANO and OSAKA (1999) found that in 14 out of 15 studies, the traditional distinction between individual and collectivist cultures did not exist. This suggests that the individualistic vs. collectivist distinction appears to declined in its existence and so it can be argued that psychologists need to move away from using such categorisations/distinctions.

(4) Changes in Psychological research practice over recent years could see a decrease in culture bias.

For example, researchers in psychology travel much more now than they did 50 years ago. This means that they have an increased understanding of other cultures at a personal and professional level. Academics hold international conferences where researchers from many different countries and culture regularly meet to discuss and exchange ideas.

This could lead to a reduction in culturally bias research as, such discussions with psychologists and researchers from other cultures would highlight flaws in methodology that could have potentially led to culturally bias results.