What do universality and bias mean?
Psychologists are influenced by the social and historical context. Bias may be an inevitable part of the process. Undermines claims of universality.
Referring to an example, outline alpha bias.
A bias within research that exaggerates or overestimate of the difference between the sexes. More likely to devalue females in relation to their male counterparts.
Sociobiological theory - Wilson (1975) - explains human sexual attraction and behaviour through the principle of ‘survival efficiency’. Males want to impregnate as many women as possible to increase the chance of his genes being passed on. Females have a better chance of passing on her genes by ensuring the healthy survival of the few offspring she is able to produce. Sexual promiscuity in males is genetically determined, but females who engage in the same behaviour are regarded as going against their ‘nature’ - an exaggeration of the differences between the sexes.
Referring to an example, outline beta bias.
Minimises or underestimates differences between men and women. Occurs when female participants aren’t included in the research but then the research assumes the findings apply equally to both sexes.
Research on fight or flight response. Evidence used to formulate this theory was based on male animals (hormones don’t fluctuate like females). Was assumed to be universal response to a threatening situation. Modern research has shown females respond differently. Taylor (2000) suggests female biology has evolved to inhibit the flight or fight response and instead shifts attention towards caring for offspring and forming defensive networks with other females.
Briefly outline androcentrism.
A consequence of beta bias. Conclusions drawn from all-male samples is classed as ‘normal’. Behaviour that deviates from it is likely to be judged as ‘abnormal’. Leads to female behaviour being understood and pathologized. Taken as a psychological instability or disorder. Feminist commentators have been objected to the diagnostic category PMS on the grounds it stereotypes and trivialises female experience.
Brescoll and Uhlman (2008). Claim PMS is a social construct which medicalises female emotion, especially anger, by explaining it in hormonal terms. Male anger is often seen as a rational response to external pressures.
What are some of the implications of gender bias?
Gender-biased research creates misleading assumptions about females. Research fails to challenge negative stereotypes and validates discriminatory practices. Provides a scientific justification to deny women opportunities within the workplace or in wider society. Men set the standards for normalcy. Tavris (1993) ‘it becomes normal for women to feel abnormal’. Is not just a methodological problem but may have damaging consequences that affects the lives of real women.
Sexism within the research process is a consequence of gender bias. Explain this, referring to research.
Lack of women appointed senior research level means female concerns aren’t always reflected in research questions. Male researchers are more likely to have their work published. Studies which find evidence of gender differences are more likely to appear in journal articles than those that don’t. Nicolson (1995). Laboratory experiments may further disadvantage women. Female participants placed in an inequitable relationship with male researchers that have the power to label them unreasonable, irrational and unable to complete complex tasks.
What is meant by ‘reflexivity’ and how does it help the issues of bias?
Researchers nowadays recognise the effect their own values and assumptions have on the nature of their work. Instead of seeing their bias as a problem that threatens the objective status and embrace it as a crucial and critical aspect of the research process in general. Reflexivity may lead to greater awareness of the role of personal biases in shaping future research.
What is meant by essentialism and how does it relate to gender bias?
Gender differences reported by psychologists are based on an essentialist perspective. Gender differences are inevitable and ‘fixed’ in nature. Walkerdine (1990). In the 1930’s research revealed how intellectual activity, for instance attending uni, would shrivel a woman’s ovaries and decrease her chances of producing offspring. Essentialist accounts are often politically motivated arguments disguised as scientific ‘facts’. Creates a double-standard in the way in which the same behaviour is viewed from male and female perspective.
Briefly explain how feminist psychology has suggested reducing stereotypes.
Worrell (1992) put forward criteria that should be used in order to avoid gender bias. Women should be studied in meaningful, real-life contexts. Genuinely participate in research instead of being the objects of the study. Diversity within groups of women should be the focus of attention. Instead of comparing women to men. Could show that female stereotypes don’t apply to all women and reduce stereotypes. Greater emphasis placed on collaborative research methods that collect qualitative instead of numerical data. Allows for unexpected findings, because questions are not fixed in advance.
Outline cultural bias.
1992, 64% of the world’s 56,000 psychology researchers were American. Baron and Byrne released a book on social psychology. 94% of the studies were conducted in North America. Psychology is mainly the study of white American males. Despite restricting their research to certain parts of the world psychologists continuously claim universal facts about human behaviour.
Outline universality and bias referring to cultural bias.
In general mainstream psychology has ignored culture as an important influence on human behaviour. Universal truths may not be universal. For example, assuming findings from Western cultures can be applied around the world. ‘Norm’ is judged from the point of view of one culture. Because of this differences in behaviour in other cultures will be viewed as ‘abnormal’.
Believes in the superiority of one’s own cultural group. In research this can be communicated through a view that behaviours that don’t conform to Western models are deficient, unsophisticated or underdeveloped. Ainsworth’s Strange Situation (1970) is criticised as it only reflects the norms and values of American culture. The Strange Situation was revealed as an inappropriate measure of attachment type for non-US children.
Outline what is meant by cultural relativism.
An example of imposed etic. When assuming the US-based model of classifying attachment norm Ainsworth imposed her own cultural understanding upon the world. Berry (1969) found a distinction between etic and emic approaches. Etic - looks at behaviour from outside a given culture and attempts to describe the behaviours that are universal. Emic - functions from within or inside certain cultures and identifies behaviours specific to that culture.
Berry argues psychology often imposes an etic approach - arguing that theories, models, concepts etc. are universal. Often they come through emic research within a single culture. Suggests that psychologists should be more mindful of the cultural relativism of their research. Does what they are discovering only make sense from the perspective of the culture it was discovered.
Is it possible / correct to separate cultural relativism and universality?
Just because imposed etic is a thing doesn’t mean that all psychology is culturally relative and that there’s no such thing as universal human behaviour. Ekman (1989) suggests basic facial expressions for emotions eg. happiness or disgust, are the same all over the human and animal world. Critics of Ainsworth’s Strange situation shouldn’t deny the fact that some features of human attachment are universal. Eg. Imitation and interactional synchrony. Full understanding of human behaviour requires studying both universals and variations among individuals and groups.
Research into individualist and collectivist cultures has shown that culture bias may not as prevalent as it once was. Explain this.
Reference to culture is often within the context of individualist-collectivist distinction. Individualist cultures - Western countries (US) thought to value personal freedom and independence. Collectivist cultures -Eastern countries (India and China) places emphasis on interdependence and and the needs of the group. However in the age of global communication and increased interconnectedness that ‘lazy’ and simplistic distinction between cultures no longer applies. Takano and Osaka (1999) found 14 out of 15 studies that compared the USA and Japan found no evidence of a distinction between individualism and collectivism.
Cultural bias may be less of an issue than it once was.
Explain the cultural issue of unfamiliarity with research tradition.
When conducting research in Western cultures the patient’s’ familiarity with the general aims and objectives of scientific enquiry is assumed. The same knowledge and ‘faith’ in scientific testing may not extend to cultures that don’t have the same historical experience of research. Demand characteristics may be exaggerated when working with members of the local population. May result in an adverse effect on the validity of the research.
A strength of cross cultural research is that it can challenge implicit assumptions. Explain this.
Cross-cultural research challenges typical Western ways of viewing the world. Can promote a greater sensitivity to individual difference and cultural relativism in the future. Counters the charge of ‘scientific racism’. The conclusions psychologists draw are likely to have more validity if they recognise the role that culture plays in the findings.
What is meant by free will?
Humans are seen as self-determining and free to choose their own thoughts and actions. Doesn’t deny that biological and environmental forces may exert influence on our behaviour. Implies that we are able to reject these forces at the masters of our own destiny. Free will is the view of human behaviour that is advocated by the humanistic approach.
Briefly outline the two main types of determinism.
Hard determinism - fatalism, states all human behaviour has a cause and should be possible to identify and describe the causes. Compatible with the aims of science, and aims to discover causal laws that govern thought and action.
Soft determinism - Acknowledges all human action has a cause but suggests that people have conscious mental control over the way they behave. Scientists can explain the many determining forces that act upon us but this does not detract from the freedom we have to make rational conscious choices.
Identify and outline three subtypes of determinism.
Biological determinism - The belief that behaviour is caused by biological (genetic, neurological, evolutionary) influences that are beyond our control. Eg. ANS during periods of stress and anxiety. Mental disorders are thought to have a genetic basis. Research has demonstrated the role of testosterone in aggressive behaviour.
Environmental determinism - Skinner viewed free will as an ‘illusion’. All behaviour is the result of conditioning. Our experience of ‘choice’ is the sum total of reinforcement contingencies that have acted upon us throughout our lives. We may think we’re acting independently but our behaviour has been shaped by environmental events as agents of socialisation.
Psychic determinism - Freud viewed free will as an ‘illusion’. Places more emphasis on the influence of biological drives and instincts. Human behaviour is seen as determined and directed by unconscious conflicts that had been repressed in childhood. Slip of the tongue can be explained by underlying authority of the unconscious.
Make a case for free will.
There is face validity to the concept, it makes cognitive sense. We constantly exercise free will with the choices we make daily. People with an internal locus of control tend to be more mentally healthy. LoC - believe they have a high degree of control over their own behaviour. Roberts (2000) found adolescents with strong belief in fatalism were at significantly greater risk of developing depression. Shows that even if we don’t have free will the fact we think we do seems to have a positive impact on mind and behaviour.
Outline arguments against free will.
Neurological studies of decision making had revealed evidence against free will. Libet (1985) and Soon (2008) demonstrated that brain activity that determines the outcome of simple choice predates our knowledge of having made that choice. Evidence showed that the choice is decided in the brain up to 10 seconds before the participant report being aware of a decision. Shows that even our most basic experiences of free will are decided and determined before we are aware of them.
Outline the case for determinism.
Scientific backing is valuable. The fact human behaviour is orderly and obeys laws places psychology on equal footing with other established sciences. No-one ‘chooses’ to have mental illnesses which casts doubt on the idea of free will. In terms of mental illnesses behaviour would appear to be determined.
Outline the case against determinism.
The stance taken that individual choice is not the cause of behaviour isn’t consistent with the legal system. Offenders are held morally accountable for their actions. Unfalsifiable. Based on the idea that causes of behaviour will always exist even though one may never be found. Means the approach may not be as scientific as it appears.
Can there be a compromise between free will and determinism?
Interactionist position could provide the best compromise. Approaches in psychology that have a cognitive element tend to adopt soft determinism approach. E.g. Social learning theory - Bandura’s reciprocal determinism. As you are influenced by your environment you in turn influence it. Argued that although environmental factors in learning are key, we are free to choose who or what to attend to and when to perform certain behaviours.
Outline the nature-nurture debate.
Nature: All behaviour is innate / predetermined. Descartes (1596-1650) argued human characteristics and some aspects of knowledge are innate. Result of heredity. Heritability coefficient used to assess heredity; scale with indicated to what extent a characteristic has a genetic basis. IQ heritability figure is 0.5 across multiple studies in varying populations. Suggests intelligence is equally factored due to genetics and environment.
Nurture: Locke (1632-1704) an empiricist argued the mind is a blank slate at birth upon which learning and experiences writes. Result of the environment. Lerner (1986) identified different levels of environment. Defined in quite narrow prenatal terms eg the mother’s physical and psychological state during pregnancy. Postnatal experiences such as the social conditions the child grows up in and the cultural and historical context they are part of.
Is the Nature-Nurture debate an easy one to answer?
Nature-nurture question is impossible to answer. Environmental influences a child’s life as soon as it begins. Nature and nurture are so intertwined that it makes no sense to separate the two. In twin studies it cannot be easily established whether high concordance rates are the result of shared genetics or shared upbringing. Psychologists now ask what the relative contribution of each influence is in terms of what we think and do.
Outline the interactionist approach.
Attachment patterns between infant and parents are result of a ‘two-way street’. Child’s innate temperament will influence the way parents respond to it. Responses in turn affect the child’s behaviour. Nature creates nurture.
Outline the Diathesis-stress model - refer to a research example in your answer.
Model of mental illness with emphasis on the interaction of nature and nurture. Suggests psychopathology is caused by biological/genetic vulnerability only expressed when coupled with a stressor. Tienari (2004). An explanation for schizophrenia. Adoptees most likely to develop schizophrenia had biological relatives with a history of the disorder (the vulnerability) and had a dysfunctional relationship with their adoptive families (the trigger).
Explain some of the controversial implications of the nature-nurture debate.
Nativism and empiricism. Nativists - ‘anatomy is destiny’. Our inherited genetic makeup determines our characteristics and behaviour, the environment has little input. Deterministic stances led to controversy such as an attempt to link race, genetics and intelligence and the application of eugenics. Empiricists suggests behaviour can be changed by altering the environmental conditions. Behaviour shaping has practical application in therapy. Desirable behaviours are reinforced. Undesirable behaviours are punished or ignored. An extreme outcome could be that society controlled and manipulated the citizens using those techniques.
Explain the role of shared and unshared environments in the nature-nurture debate.
Finding the influence of the environment is complicated. Even if you’re raised in the same family you may not experience exactly the same upbringing. Dunn and Plomin (1990) introduced shared and unshared environments. Individual differences means siblings experience life events differently. E.g. Age/temperament would mean a life event such as divorce would have a different meaning to each sibling. MZ twins raised together don’t show perfect concordance rates. Supports the view that heredity and environment cannot be meaningfully separated.
What is constructivism and how does it relate to the nature-nurture debate?
People create their own nurture by actively seeking out environments that are appropriate for their nature. E.g. A naturally aggressive child will feel more comfortable with children that show the same behaviour. This environment affects their development. Plomin (1994). Niche-picking and niche-building. Evidence that means it’s illogical to try and separate nature and nurture.
Explain Scarr & McCartney’s theory of genotype-environment interaction.
Scarr and McCartney (1983) theory of gene-environment interaction. Passive interaction - parents’ genes influence the way they treat their children. Evocative interaction - child’s genes influence and shape the environment in which they grow up. Active interaction - child creates its own environment through the people and experiences it selects. Points to a complex and multi-layered relationship between nature and nurture.
What is meant by holism and reductionism?
Holism. It only makes sense to study an indivisible system. Not into its constituent parts.
Reductionism. Belief that human behaviour is best explained by breaking it down into its constituent parts.
Explain biological reductionism.
Humans are biological organisms made up of physiological structures and processes. All behaviour is at some level biological. Therefore can be explained through neurochemical, neurophysiological, evolutionary and genetic influences. An assumption of the biological approach. Successfully been applied as explanations for mental disorders eg. OCD, depression and schizophrenia.
Explain environmental (stimulus-response) reductionism.
A conclusion drawn from information gathered from observable behaviour. Breaking up complex learning into simple stimulus-response links measurable in a lab. An assumption of the behaviourist approach. Analysis occurs at a physical level. Doesn’t take cognitive processes into consideration.
Briefly explain what is meant by levels of explanation in psychology.
Hierarchy. There are different ways of explaining the same phenomenon in psychology - some more reductionist than others. The more precise it is the higher it appears on the hierarchy: Socio-cultural, psychological, physical, physiological, neurochemical.
Briefly make the case for holism.
Aspects of social behaviour only emerge when being studied as a group. Evidence from conformity studies can’t be understood if you take the group apart. Holistic explanations provide a more complete and global understanding of behaviour than reductionist approaches.
Explain the case against holism.
Holistic explanations don’t lend themselves to rigorous testing. Vague; relies on speculation as the explanations become more complex. Higher level explanations that combine different perspectives creates a dilemma. Difficult to establish the most influential factor eg. which one to use as a basis for therapy. When finding solutions for real-life problems, lower level explanations may be more appropriate.
Briefly evaluate the case for reductionism.
Forms the basis of scientific research. To create operationalised variables, target behaviours need to be broken up into constituent parts. Behaviourist approach demonstrated how complex learning could be broken down to simple stimulus-response links within the lab. Because of this, experiments and observations are meaningful and reliable.
Briefly make the case against reductionism.
Oversimplifies complex phenomena and leads to loss of validity. Explanations involving genes, neurotransmitters or neurons don’t include analysis of the social context where the behaviour occurs - and this is where the behaviour may derive its meaning. Analysis of an observable action, a physiological process, doesn’t tell us why it happens. Reductionist explanations never form the whole explanation, only gives insight into part of it.
Briefly explain the Interactionist approach in terms of the holism & reductionism debate.
An alternative to reductionism and is not quite holism. Diathesis-stress model. Disorders come from a predisposition (often genetic) which is triggered by a stressor. Explanation for schizophrenia and depression. Lead to multidisciplinary and ‘holistic’ approach to treatment. Combines therapies e.g. drug and family therapy for schizophrenia. Associated with lower relapse rates.
Explain the idiographic approach.
An approach that attempts to describe the nature of the individual. People are studied as unique entities, with their own subjective experiences, motivations and values. No attempt is made to compare them to a larger group. Associated with methods that produce qualitative data. Case studies, unstructured interviews and other self-report measures.
Explain the nomothetic approach.
An approach that aims to produce general laws of human behaviour. Involves a study of larger numbers of people in order to establish ways in which people are similar (and how they differ). Provides a ‘norm’ against which people can be compared, classified and measured, on the basis of which future behaviour can be predicted/controlled. Associated with methods regarded as scientific. E.g. Experiments.
Describe some examples of the idiographic approach.
Humanistic psychology. More interested in investigating unique experience than producing general laws. Rogers and Maslow documented the conscious experience of the ‘self’. Psychodynamic - in some ways. Sigmund Freud used the case study method to detail the lives of his patients.
Describe 2 examples of the nomothetic approach.
Features of reductionist and determinist approaches. Hypotheses are formulated, tested under controlled conditions using large numbers of people, analysed for their statistical significance. Behaviourist, cognitive and biological. Skinner - large numbers of rats etc. to develop laws of learning. Cognitive - inferring structure and processes of human memory by measuring performance of large samples in lab tests. Biological - brain scans on countless human brains in order to make generalisations about localisation of function.
Briefly make the case for the idiographic approach.
In-depth qualitative methods provides complete global account of the individual. Can complement the nomothetic approach by shedding further light on general laws, or challenge them. HM findings revealed insight into normal functioning which contributes to our overall understanding.
Briefly make a case against the idiographic approach.
Findings are narrow and restricted. Criticism of Freud’s concept the Oedipus complex. Developed from a detailed study of a single case, generalisations cannot be made without more examples. No adequate baseline to compare behaviour to. The methods associated with the idiographic approach tend to be the least scientific. Conclusions rely on subjective interpretation of the researcher. Open to bias.
Briefly evaluate the case for the nomothetic approach.
More scientific. Testing is in standardised conditions. Data sets provide an average. Statistical analysis. Prediction and control. Processes enable psychologists to establish norms of ‘typical’ behaviour. Greater scientific credibility.
Briefly evaluate the case against the nomothetic approach.
Accused of ‘losing the whole person’. Knowing there’s a 1% lifetime risk of developing schizophrenia tells us little about what life is like for a schizophrenic. Participants treated as a series of scores rather than individual people. Subjective experience and situation is ignored. When searching for generalities the nomothetic approach may overlook the richness of human experience.
Briefly explain why the two approaches may be viewed as complementary rather than contradictory.
Instead of the approaches being seen as mutually exclusive it is possible to consider an issue from both perspectives, depending on the issue. Research on gender development (Bem’s androgyny scale) attempted to establish general laws alongside case studies. Goal of modern psychology is to provide rich, detailed descriptions of human behaviour as well as the explanation of such behaviour within the framework of general laws.
Outline the ethical implications when conducting and releasing findings from socially sensitive research.
Participants can be protected when involved in the research. Researches can control the methods they select and how they treat participants. It’s difficult to guard against the social impact of psychological research once it’s been conducted. Researches can’t know how their findings will be represented by the media, the impact of their work on public policy, and how it may influence our perception on particular groups in society. This causes concern with wider ethical implications of research.
What is meant by socially sensitive research?
Some areas of research are likely to be more socially sensitive than others. Research investigating ‘taboo’ topics race, sexuality etc. Often gains attention from the media and the public as a whole. This shouldn’t lead to psychologists shying away from these topics. Psychologists may have a social responsibility to carry out the research.
Outline ethical considerations that should be considered in socially sensitive research.
Sieber and Stanley (1988) identified a number of concerns that should be considered when conducting socially sensitive research.
Implications - wider effects need to be considered, some studies may be seen as giving scientific backing to prejudice and discrimination. ➝Can be difficult to predict at the outset.
Uses/public policy - what can it be used for? What would happen if it was used for the wrong purpose? ➝May be adopted by the government for political ends or to shape public policy.
The validity of the research - previous psychologists have affected their findings because of their own biases. ➝Modern social constructionist researchers are more up-front about their own biases and preconceptions and include comments on the reflexive nature of their work.
Briefly outline the benefits of socially sensitive research.
Scarr (1988) argues studies of underrepresented groups and issues could promote greater sensitivity and understanding. Research could help reduce prejudice and encourage acceptance. Research on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Release of these findings has reduced the risk of miscarriages of justice within the legal system. This suggests socially sensitive research may play a valuable role in society.
How does the way in which the way questions are phrased affect how research is interpreted? Evaluate.
Sieber and Stanley (1988). Found that how research questions are phrased and investigated can influence how the findings are interpreted.
Kitzinger and Coyle (1995). Noticed how research into so-called ‘alternative relationships’ was guilty of a form of ‘heterosexual bias’ where homosexual relationships are compared and judged against heterosexual norms.
Investigators must approach their research with an open mind and be prepared for their preconceptions to be challenged to avoid misrepresenting minority groups.
Briefly explain why considering who gains from socially sensitive research is important.
Previously been used by the government and other institutions to shape public policy. Despite the nature of some of the findings and without full consideration of the moderating effects of the environment on characteristics. Research that seeks to manipulate the public has obvious ethical implications. Raises the questions of who benefits from the research being conducted.
Briefly explain social control as a limitation of socially sensitive research.
America 1920/30’s multiple US states introduced a legislation that led to the compulsory sterilisation of citizens on the grounds that they were ‘feeble-minded’ and a drain on society. Included people deemed to have a low IQ, drug or alcohol addicts and the mentally ill. The rationale was supported by sections of the scientific and psychological community at the time, feeble-minded people were deemed ‘unfit’ to breed. Socially sensitive research has been used to ‘prop up’ discriminatory practices in the past is an argument against its widespread adoption.