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With reference to two psychological theories, discuss how that Psychology presents a gender-biased view of human behaviour.

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With reference to two psychological theories, discuss how that Psychology presents a gender-biased view of human behaviour.

There are many different types of gender bias that has been identified within psychology. The main two are:

  • Alpha bias – this type of bias exaggerates the differences in males and females
  • Beta bias – this minimises the differences between men and women

These biases exist because of androcentric views being seen as the standard or the norm. If women display different behaviour to the norm (men) then it is seen as inferior (and sometimes a diviation from ideal mental health).

Kohlberg’s theory of moral development (1963). A series of moral dilemmas were presented to children who had to judge them and say how they would respond. They were then interviewed to determine the reasoning behind their judgments of each scenario. He then created stages of moral development. Theses stages were based around male moral reasoning. The different types of bias present in this theory are beta bias, because he then generalised this to women, which was inappropriately done, as men and women make moral decision differently (this is intuitively correct). Also androcentrism,  he claimed that women generally reached a lower level of development than men.                                                         As an extension to this Gilligan (1982) highlighted the bias that was present within Kohlberg’s work. She suggested that women do make moral decisions in a different way to men, they think on a more emotional and caring level to men. Her work could be criticised as highlighting the difference too much, therefore it is still biased, just a very strong form of alpha bias.

Another theory in psychology which is very strongly gender bias, is Freud and his theory of psychosexual development. This theory states that:

  • Biology is destiny –men and women’s roles are prearranged and predetermined
  • Penis envy – women are defined psychologically by the fact that they aren’t men, hence they will then be envious of the males penis

This theory completely reinforces the stereotype that women are inferior to men. If you go by this theory, any woman that is trying to better herself in work and move up the career ladder, is just doing this as a way of proving herself because she is envious she is not a male. This theory is very androcentric, taking males as the normal.                                                                                              This also links with the view of ideal mental health. There are three types of ideal mental health:

  • Ideal mental health for a human
  • Ideal mental health for a male
  • Ideal mental health for a female

If you look at the criteria for these categories, then ideal mental health for a human and a male are very similar, and include lots of the same criteria. Meaning, already, that the female is considered as being mentally unstable.

It is very difficult to find a theory or a piece of research that is not remotely gender bias in some aspect. Hence, psychologists should just accept this difference between males and females and highlight it. Not over-emphasise it but to at least acknowledge it.

Discuss the view that research practices in Psychology are culturally biased.

Cultural bias is one of many biases to be found in psychological research. If you look at different research studies in Psychology then you will see that the majority of that research has been carried out in Western society and has been applied to the rest of the world not recognising that there might be differences. Most British and American studies have used samples of participants from their own cultures, and usually students. This means that not only can the results not be applied to other cultures and the rest of the world, but they cant be applied to anyone who isnt a student.Psychology is therefore guilty of an imposed etic, trying to explain the behaviour in one part of the world, e.g. Indonesia, with theories and research that has been developed in another, America.

Culture bound syndromes are a clear area of psychology where culture bias is present. Culture bound syndromes are disorders which have been first described in and closely linked to a particular area, group of people or part of the world. Although there are many “culture bound syndromes” that have been found, are they really mental instability. Just because our culture finds that the Chinese way of greaving is slightly strange does that mean they are suffering from a mental illness?

Diagnostic systems are also full of culture bias. If someone is having a conversation with a dead relative in our culture, then according to the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) that person is mentally ill, but if this was in Africa, where talking to dead relatives is considered normal behaviour, this assumption that the person is mentally unstable is not appropriate.

As the each country is becoming more multi-culturally attitudes need to change. Culture bias will probably always be present in Psychology and its reasearch as no one can be both English and Indian and Chinese. This could lead to some people (if they are wanting to go to the extreme) considering it to be racist. More cross-cultural research is needed. As then we can compare different cultures to our own, rather than generalising inappropriate reseach that doesn’t apply to all cultures and creating a wrong impression.

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Social Psychology section.

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