“There have been many instances of Psychological research that have shown gender biases. These biases may distort the value of such research”.
With Reference to issues such as those raised by the quotation, discuss gender bias in Psychology.
Many major theories and research are characterized by a gender bias resulting from a male norm perspective. However, traditional research methods have also been biased towards males such as the development of feminist’s research methods such as unstructured interviews. Controlled laboratory experiments usually are more beneficial to men because of the conditions that they are more comfortable with.
Gender Bias in Psychological research has been suggested it can exist from the point of formulation of the question. Denmark et al suggested that gender bias is found at all stages of research. He was involved in the 1988 APA committee on non sexist research. Their report found that the way that research problems are conceptualised may be influenced by the assumptions and understandings of the researcher about gender (i.e. by their schemas about gender). This may introduce gender bias in town ways; the way the question is asked automatically assumes that there is a difference between men and women, so therefore the answer to the question would probably be gender biased too. Questions such as ‘what are the differences between men and women?’ it would be difficult to give an unbiased answer. A better question would be ‘what are the common characteristics of the two genders?’ Gender bias in the research question is also formulated by the importance we give to the topic. Gross suggested that topics relevant to women, such as the psychological correlates of pregnancy and the menopause are seen as specialist women’s topics, whereas those that effect men such as the effect of TV violence on male aggression are seen as mainstream topics and relevant to everyone.
There are different types of gender bias. Alpha Bias exaggerates the differences between men and women. Some alpha biased theories are used to heighten the value of women such as Gilligan’s view of women being morally different but not morally inferior. Some alpha biased theories suggest that men are better suited to some jobs rather than women. This is concluded by gender biased data analysis and interpretation. Denmark demonstrated this by giving the example that “the spatial ability scored of women in our sample is significantly lower than those of men at the 0.01 level”. From this suggestion we could conclude that women are less suited to jobs such as engineering and architecture. However in this study it is clear that men have a better spatial awareness but still the difference are not that different, neither genders appear to be suitable according to the scores. The differences here have been exaggerated greatly and are an example of alpha bias.
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Freud is a good example of Alpha Bias in Psychology as he over exaggerates the differences between males and female’s development whilst making assumptions about issues that he has not fully researched. (E.g. Freud made the Oedipus complex theory but never even met Little Hans) and generalising to the rest of society. Freud concluded that there are obvious differences in the moral development of boys and girls, ‘apparently’ boys develop the stronger superego which is ideally what you should be like, then what you are like. Freud argues boys go through the Oedipus complex which is the child’s desire for the mother, consequently they fear castration by father, and this is resolved by identification with the father and adopting his morals which is where the super ego is formed. Freud believed that girls had weaker super egos as they go through penis envy and consequently blame mother and identify with them with father which is the Electra complex. However, Freud is saying there is a emphasising the differences between boys and girls, and also he never studied girls but came to that conclusion by taking the male as a norm and coming to the conclusion about girls from it. However ‘Hoffman’ argued that boys and girls are not much different from each other, moral behaviour depends on parenting styles, if anything girls are better at resisting temptation that boys according to his research and studies. I t could be that Hoffman’s view is slightly beta biased by ignoring and minimising the differences between boys and girls but it is far less sexist than Freud’s theory of exaggeration.
Kohlberg proposed a stage theory of moral development which went from childhood to adulthood. He has been highly criticised for his methodology and also the fact that he over exaggerated the differences between male and females development. His research was also based on males; it cannot be used to explain female’s moral reasoning, if anything his research suggested that women do not even experience all six stages of moral development as they have a morality of care which does not need to be progressed to stage six, Kohlberg suggested that this is not as important as morality of justice. This theory may exclude women from some jobs where moral decisions must be made such as doctors, or high court judges. This says that men are superior to women or have a stronger conscience. However this view is problematic in the case it does not fit into today’s society, it has political implications and does not fit in with modern society where there are same sex couples and single parents. On the other hand, there are some studies that suggest that Kohlberg and Gilligan’s view is inaccurate. Hoffman found that girls are better that resisting temptation than boys. It is parenting styles that are what shapes a child into a morally mature person rather than what gender they are.
Beta Bias ignores and minimises the differences between men and women. With Beta bias it is usually the case of results been based on one gender but being generalised to both such as in Kohlberg’s and Freud’s theories of moral development. Beta bias applies all findings to all mankind.
Many research studies are problematic as they the sample is gender biased; this affects the results and provides invalid and inaccurate feedback. A good example of a beta biased sample is Asch’s study of visual perception which looked at opinions and social pressure. This is a very problematic piece of research as the sample is all men. These results are then transferred onto women to make assumptions of their skills. The Beta bias in this study lies in the research situation, it may be that the researcher is unaware of the nature of the research situation but women in general find lab situations disempowering. However Rosenthal found male experimenters more friendly, honest and pleasant towards women which may make them feel more comfortable. Still, the findings were still generalised to both sexes, and the fact that it was a lab experiment may have distorted the results if women acted differently in that situation as assumed. Both sexes would have to be tested in a lab situation or better in a neutral situation where women to not feel disempowered. It is also questionable why the sample was only men; it would be assumed that men are better at visual perception than women anyway so why test it?
Moscovici also used a laboratory situation to research minority influence. This research is an all women sample so once again beta bias is present as the results were generalised to both sexes. Initially it was assumed that women are better at colour perception than men, this is why all women were preferred in this experiment, however this is producing invalid results as the results would probably not be what men would of also came up with themselves if they are thought to have an inaccurate colour perception. Also women may have conformed in this experiment not because of the minority influence but because they felt pressured in the laboratory situation which is a male preferred technique, Women tend to find laboratory situations disempowering.
The experimenter themselves may effect any results taken. Rosenthal found male experimenters were friendlier, pleasant and honest towards women, this means that women are involved in a very different experiment to their male counterparts. However this could just be a coincidence in the sample that Rosenthal studied and some researchers treat all participants equally; this is not something that can provide reliable information when testing this theory. In theory a researcher should use a mixed sample with non gendered scenarios as this will to some extent prevent possible bias in the sample and the experiment in general. But can we ever really achieve this mixed sample, non gendered scenario, or fully step outside your gender to achieve a gendered view?
Another problem in psychological research is Androcentric bias. This term defines ‘male’ as the norm and sets the standards against which women are measured i.e. men. Freud was a psychologist whose research was nearly all Androcentric. He developed theories based on boys to explain theories about girls rather them studying them fist hand. The male was the norm and seen as superior, how ever this was a common view anyway in Freud’s 1900’s patriarchal society.
Freud’s theory of moral development is an example of androcentrism, the theory shows women having a lower level of moral development than men, and this is the same with Kohlberg. However, these theories cannot be totally accurate as they are only generalised to women and not actually tested on them in a situation that they are comfortable enough in to gain accurate results. These theories of moral development are drawn from an all male sample, and the development of males. Women’s development is significantly different from males so can we really generalise moral development to the rest of society from an all male sample? Consequently the methodology appears to be a problem. Also andocentric research fails to allow the researcher to address gender differences; it only shows that men apparently develop further morals than women.
Androcentric bias in research may make women feel inferior to men. Sometimes assumptions are made about women in experimental or conformist situations. Eagley (1978) found women may be more conformist generally in experimental situations, from this we assume they may be more conformist. However this finding has failed to address a comparison with men and how conformist they are in experimental situations. Eagley may have over simplified or over exaggerated the situation and put forward the assumption that the male is the norm e.g. men do not conform as easily which sets up the stereo type that men are strong and morally superior.
It is difficult to totally overcome gender bias in theory and research; some of the most influential theories within psychology as a whole are based on males only, but are meant to apply equally to both sexes. Also pre assumed ideas in society are difficult to overcome because of the fact that most ideas are based on men, anything different to that stereotypical idea of normal behaviour may be seen as abnormal in some way, women behaviour will obviously differ from men, this must be taken into account in research or gender bias will distort the value of such research.