Issues and Debate - Essay Topics


Gender Bias - Types of Bias

Andocentrism: Centred on males. What counts as normal drawn from research with all male samples. Deviations from this behaviour considered 'abnormal' = female behaviour misunderstood.

e.g. PMS - anger in females seen as medical condition - abnormal, male anger = rational

Alpha Bias: exaggerates differences between sexes. Typically presented as fixed or inevitable

e.g. Freudian theory: girls do not experience castration anxiety in phallic stage of psychosexual development, so not under same pressure to form identification as same sex parent. Has impliactions for super ego, so sense of morality is inferior to males

Beta Bias: minimises or underestimates differences between males and females (when no female participants - assumed reserach findings apply to both sexes)

e.g. Taylor et al - introduced 'tend and befriend'. Previously assumed that F or F applied equally to both sexes

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Gender Bias - Evaluation

Implications of gender bias:

  • Misleading assumptions about female behaviour & scientifically justified discrimination. 
  • Alpha bias - stereotypes of females maintained
  • Beta bias - compares females against a male standard (might not be able to live up to)

Sexism in research:

  • Lack of women at research level - female concerns not reflected.

Challenges essentialism (gender differences fixed in nature)

  • Walkerdine 1930's idea that intellectual activity (university) caused womans ovaries to shrink

Real sex differences?

  • there are differences between males and females, however can be difficult to distinguish real and culturally created differences
  • Maccoby & Jacklin - Girls= greater verbal ability, less agressive, boys = greater visual & spatial abilities, greater arithmetical ability (adolescence)
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Culture Bias - Types

Universality & Bias:

  • assumes findinsgs from studies in Western cultures are interpreted as universal. Any cultural differences in behaviour that deviates from Western standard = abnormal
  • Bond & Smith, Asch's conformity study - highest conformity in Indian teachers in Fiji, lowest in Belgian students.


  • belief in superiority of one's own cultural group. Behavior that do not confrom to (usually Western) model are considered 'underdeveloped' or 'unsophisticated'
  • Shaffer & Emerson 'stages of attachment' - outlines stages of 'normal' infant attachment

Cultural relativism:

  • Berry has drawn dinstinction between ETIC and EMIC approaches in study of behaviour
  • ETIC - looks at behaviour from outside a given culture & attempts to describe them as universal
  • EMIC - functions from within certain cultures & identifies behaviors that are specific to that culture
  • Ainsworth (an e.g. of imposed etic) - studied behavior in US & assumed it could be applied universally.
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Culture Bias - Evaluation


  • Western people = familiar with concept of research & aims, non - Western = not as familiar, may have different behaviour under experimental condiotions - demand charactersitics may be exaggerated (Bond and Smith) - adverse effect on validity of research.

Ethical Implications

  • awareness helps guard psychologist from presenting culturally biased findings
  • Historically, IQ tests results (subject to significant cultural bias) been used to support claims about innate IQ differences between different races. 
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Free Will and Determinism - Comparison

Free Will (humanistic approach): belief we are self-determining & choose own thoughts & actions, Determinism: behaviour is shaped by internal or external factors rather than will to do so

Hard.D (fatalism): all behaviour has cause, free will not possible, caused by forces beyond control

Biological.D: caused by biological influences (genes, hormones, evolution) e.g MAOA gene 

Environmental.D: behaviour caused by conditioning, 'choice' = sum total of reinforcement contingencies (BF Skinner)

Psychic.D: caused by unconcious conflicts, repressed in childhood (Sigmund Freud)

Soft.D: people still have some mental conscious control over behaviour

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Free Will and Determinism - Evaluation


  • prediction & control of human behaviour has led to development of treatments, therapies & behavioural intervention - e.g controlling & managing Schizophrenia
  • not consistent with how legal system operates - in court of law, offenders are held morally acountable for actions. 

Free Will:

  • face validity - our everyday life choices and experiences 'gives the impression' we are constantly exercising free will - gives face validity to concept of free will. Roberts - adolescents with high degree of fatalsim (life decided by external events) at higher risk of depression.
  • Soon et al - brain activity related to decision making changed up to 10 seconds before participants were conscious of having made a choice. (brain activity determines outcome)
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Nature vs Nurture - Differences & Heritability Coe


  • characteristics (e.g. personality, intelligence) caused by innate influences. Process of passing on traits (via genes) known as heredity.
  • MAOA gene mutation variant = 13 times more likely to be aggressive


  • infuence of external factors after conception e.g. exposure & life experiences
  • Bowlby's 44 thieves, 14 had AP, 12/14 suffered some form of maternal deprivation/seperation

Heritability Coefficient:

  • Scale 0-1 which indicates the extent to which a characteristic has a genetic basis. (1=entirely genetic). IQ = 0.5 (both needed)
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Nature vs Nurture - Diathesis-Stress Model & Epige

Diathesis-Stress Model (support for importance of both factors)

  • suggests psychopathology caused by biological/genetic vulnerability which is only expressed when paired with trigger.
  • Tiernari, study with adoptee twins, vulnerability (family history) & trigger (dysfunctional relationship with family) needed for Schizophrenia


  • aspects of lifestyle lead epigenetic 'marks' on DNA - may switch genes on/off. 
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Nature vs Nurture - Evaluation

Shared & Unshared Environment:

  • siblings raised in same family may not have experienced the same upbringing. Age/temprement means that life events may have different impacts to the individuals
  • MZ twins reared together do not have perfect concordance rates


  • people create own 'nurture' by actively selecting environments appropriate to their 'nature' 
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Holism and Reductionism

Holism -  studying a system as a whole rather than constituent parts. e.g humanism

- Haney & Zimbardo's study - guards behahiour - following 'guards role' represented in tv/books/movies, the percieved behaviour of how a guard should act

Reductionism - belief that human behaviour is best explained by breaking it down into smaller constituent parts.

- biological: attempts to explain social & psychological phenomena at a biological level in terms of actions of genes/hormones etc

-environmental: explaining behaviour in terms of stimulus-response links that have been learned through experience

- MAOA gene variant - mutation causes aggression to be 13 times more likely

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Levels of Explanation

suggests that there are different ways of viewing the same phenomena - some more reductionist than others.

Social & cultural explanations (influence of social groups on behaviour)

  • e.g OCD - repetitive hand washing that most people would regard as odd or irrational

Psychological explanations (cognitive/behavioural/environmental)

  • e.g OCD - the experience of having obsessive thoughts

Biological explanations (neurochemical, genetic, brain structure, etc.)

  • e.g OCD - seretonin deficiency
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Holism and Reductionism - Evaluation


  • often there are aspects of social behaviour that only emerge within a group context and cannot be understood at the level of individual group members. Provides a more complete & global understanding of behaviour
  • can become vague and speculative as they become more complex. Cannot be explained scientifically & lacks empirical evidence


  • Often forms the basis of scientific research. Possible to conduct experiments or record observations.
  • can be accused of oversimplifying complex phenomena leading to a loss of validity. Does not include an analysis of the social context


  • for example diathesis-stress model with explaining onset of mental disorders eg schizophrenia
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Idiographic and Nomothetic

Idiographic - attempts to describe the nature of individuals. People are studied as unique entities, each with their own subjective experiences, motivations and values. 

- Freud - use of case studies

Nomothetic- aims to produce general laws of human behaviour. Provides a 'benchmark' against which people can be compared, classified and measured.

- Skinner & behaviourists studied the responses of 100's of cats, rats, pigeons in order to develop their rules for learning

- biological psychologists conducted brain scans on human brains in order to make generalisations about localisation of function

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Idiographic and Nomothetic Evaluation


  • provides a complete & global account of the individual. Has a therapeutic benefit for the individual. 
  • generalisations cannot be made based off the account of one person. e.g Freud based one of key concepts of Oedipus complex of a detailed study (Little Hans)
  • susceptible to subjective bias


  • the methods mean that findings are more reliable & scientifically credible
  • insights gained allow some prediction & successful treatments
  • doesn't provide meaningful info to individuals
  • individual variation is overlooked when studying people in groups

Could see approaches as complimentary rather than in conflict. Nomothetic approach = clear framework, idiographic approach = finer grained individual details

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