Gender Bias in Psychology

Gender Bias in Psychology

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Gender Bias in Psychology
b) Discuss issues of gender bias in psychological research (22m)
Mustin and Marecek (1988) identified 2 types of gender bias. Alpha bias refers to theories that
acknowledge real and enduring differences between men and women. These can heighten the value
of women, making findings from research misleading. For example, Lombroso's theory of criminality
stated that female criminal were rare because they had "evolved less than men due to the inactive
nature of their lives". Lombroso believed that women lacked the intelligence and initiative to
become a criminal. In accordance with such claims as these, the FBI's profiling technique didn't
interview any female serial killers when gathering its evidence, and as a result a number of female
offenders may escape capture as none of the profilers considered that the offenders may be
female. However, it could be argued that it wasn't the profiling approach that was gender biased,
but it was the result of the patriarchal society in America at the time the approach was developed.
Beta Bias on the other hand, refers to theories that minimise the differences between men and
women, assuming that women and men are the same, thus important parts of female life
experiences are often ignored. For example, Kohlberg's theory of moral reasoning was criticised
because the dilemma he used to assess moral reasoning were based on male perspectives, and he
used a purely male sample, but then applied his theory to all, believing there were no gender
differences in moral reasoning. As a result, Kohlberg encouraged Gilligan to develop her theory of
moral understanding, using both males and females, which concluded that gender differences did
exist in moral reasoning, in that men tend to base judgement on justice, whereas women tended to
base judgements on relationships and caring. However, the problem with this is that although
Gilligan tried to correct the methodological weakness of Kohlberg's research, all she actually did was
to create an alpha bias, promoting the already well established stereotype that men are more
`rational' thinkers then `emotional' women.
One cause of gender bias is due to stereotypical views of practitioners, which can be particular seen
in the diagnosis of mental illness. For example, Leeson and Gray argued that mental health
professionals' attitudes towards women are based on the general stereotypical views of women in
society and this is reflected in their diagnosis. Male psychiatrists are more likely to diagnose females
with depression, even when they are presenting the same symptoms. Equally, Penfold and Walker
go on to state that women's complaints tend to be seen as having psychogenic origin, whilst men's
are seen as being caused by a physical problem. However, evidence has shown that disorders which
are typically seen as `female syndromes' are highly correlated with gender specific risk factors. For
example, PTSD is much more common in women than men, but women are more likely to be suffers
of sexual violence, for which PTSD is often a result. Therefore it may be the lifestyles of genders that
make them prone to certain disorders.
In conclusion it appears that psychological research is full of cases of gender bias, which many early
theories showing either alpha or beta biases in their methods. However, early theories should not be
discounted even if the method was flawed as most make an important contribution to psychology.
Ian Duffy


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