Controversies - Cultural Bias:

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  • Most research is carried out on Americans, by Americans.
  • E.G. Asch found much higher levels of conformity in American males than Perrin & Spencer found in British males.
  • Problem - while some characteristics may be universal, differences in a lot of psychological characteristics have been found between cultures.
  • Very little research is carried out by non-Western researchers on non-Western participants. This includes research looking at diverse cultures.
  • E.G. Buss (an American) studied both Western & non populations, but 77% of the participants he used were from Western cultures.
  • Another problem is that journals are perhaps more interested in publishing research that suggests there are differences between cultures & less interested in publishing research that suggests that there are similarities (publication bias).
  • In conclusion, research in psychology is affected by cultural buas because it either assumes that differences exist between cultures, when in reality such differences may not exist (alpha bias) or because it ignores real differences between cultures.
  • Non-Western cultures are under-represented in research, in terms of the amount of research carried out & in terms of the no. of participants that are used.
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  • Demonstrated the problem of how Western psychologists have assumed that psychological characteristics are universial is the study of intelligence.
  • IQ tests have been devised by Western psychologists. Assumed that these tests are equally valid for all cultures - known as "emposed etic".
  • In non-Western cultures, intelligence may not be seen in the same way. E.G In Kenya, an intelligent child is one that is respectuful and obedient. Therefore, what is regarded as intelligence differs from 1 culture to the next, not appropriate to measure intelligence the same.
  • Research carried out by Yerkes on the US military during WW1, found that black Americans & Eastern European immigrants did poorly on IQ tests. This evidence was used to legistimise racist policies and restrict immigration. Meant that many people were refused entry to America when seeking political refuge from Nazi Germany prior to the WW2. The fact that white American adults had an average mental age of a 13 year old, was largely ignored.
  • The language that IQ tests are written in and differences in socioeconomic status and educational experience were likely to have disadvantaged black and eastern European immigrants. Could have been a no. of reasons why they didn't do so well on IQ tests.
  • To conclude, cultural differences that have been found, are likely to be due to the assumption that IQ tests are equally valid rahter than real differencs in intelligence. Consequence has led to social policies which have discriminated against certain groups.
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Mental Health:

  • May be assumed that the symptoms of mental illness are universial (an etic approach). E.G. Depression is characterissed by persitent low mood & this is true for all cultures.
  • Although, defintions may be based on social norms, meaning that Western classification systems are ethnocentric - if non-western individuals are assessed on such criteria, the diagnosis may be inaccurate. E.G. Hearing voices is a symptom of schizophrenia in Western cultures, but may be desirable in others (Shamans).
  • Imposing our norms of behaviour on other cultural groups demonstrated an etic approach - this may partiallty explain why black people in the UK are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than white people.
  • Cultural relativisim acknowledges that certain disorders are specific to certain cultures (emic approach). Examples of disorders that are considered to be "culture-bound" include Dhat, Amok, Anorexia Nervosa.
  • In conclusion, diagnostic systems may be biased and diagnosticians need to be aware of possible bias in order to prevent such problems and perhaps suggests that while it may be appropriate to adopt an etic approach, an emic approach may be appropriate at other times.
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  • It seems unlikely that cultural bias will always exist within psychology. Psychologists need to be aware that while it is likely that there are real differencs between cultural groups, some differences found may be due to cultural bias.
  • By understanding the issues around cultural bias, psychologists can avoid drawing incorrect conclusions about cultural differences so that they can better understand them.
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