• Created by: moll99
  • Created on: 07-02-17 10:07

Gender Bias

  • Implications of gender bias: may create misleading assumptions about female behaviour, fail to challenge negative stereotypes and validate discriminatory practices. It may provide scientific justification to deny woman opportunities within the workplace or in wider society.
  • Sexism within the research process: a lack of women appointed at a senior research level means that female concerns may not be reflected in the research question asked. Male researchers are more likely to have their work published and studies which find evidence of gender differences are more likely to appear in journal articles than those that do not.
  • Reflexivity: many modern researchers are beginning to recognise the effect their own values and assumptions have on the nature of their work. Rather than seeing such bias as a problem they embrace it as a crucial and critical aspect of the research process in general.
  • Essentialism: many of the gender differences reported by psychologists over the years are based on an essentialist perspective: that the gender difference in question is inevitable and fixed in nature. This often creates a double standard in the way that the same behaviour is viewed from a male and female perspective.
  • Feminist psychology: feminist commentators put forward a number of criteria that should be adhered to in order to avoid gender bias.
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Cultural Bias

  • Individualism and collectivism: when psychologists have made reference to culture, they have done so within the context of the individualist-collectivist distinction. Individualist culture is associated with Western countries who value personal freedom and independence. Collectivist cultures such as India and China place more emphasis on interdependence and the need of the group. Critics suggest that such a lazy and simplistic distinction between cultures no longer applies.
  • Cultural relativism versus universality: it should not be assumed that all psychology is culturally relative and that there is no such thing as universal human behaviour. A full understanding of human behaviour requires the study of both universals and variation among individuals and groups.
  • Unfamiliartiy with research tradition: when conducting research in Western culture the participants familiarity with the general aims and objectives of scientific enquiry is assumed. The same knowledge may not extend to cultures that do not have the same experience of research. This makes demand characteristics a problem.
  • Operationalisation of variables: the variables under review may not be experienced in the same way by all participants. For example, the invasion of personal space is seen as normal in China but not in the West. These may affect interactions between the researcher and participants, or between Western and non-Western participants.
  • Challenging implicit assumptions: conducting cross-cultural research may challenge our typically Western ways of thinking and viewing the world. It may promote a greater sensitivity to individual difference and cultural relativism in the future. Psychologists are likely to have more validity if they inculde recognition of the role of culture.
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Free Will and Determinism


  • Strength: determinism is consistent with the aims of science and places psychology on equal footing with other more established sciences. The value of research is that the prediction and control of human behaviour has led to the development of treatments, therapies and behavioural interventions that have benefitted many - psychotherapeutic drug treatment in controlling and managing schizophrenia.
  • Weakness: the hard determinist stance is not consistent with the way in which our legal system operates. Offenders are held morally accountable for their actions. Determinism as an approach is unfalsifiable and is based on the idea that causes of behaviour will always exist.

Free Will

  • Strength: everyday experience gives the impression that we are constantly exercising free will through the choices we make on any give day which gives face validity to the concept of free will. Research suggests that people who have an internal locus of control, believing they have a high degree of influence over events and their behaviour, tend to be more mentally healthy.
  • Weakness: neurological studies of decision making have revealed evidence against free will. Studies have demonstrated that the brain activity that determines the outcome of simple choices may predate our knowledge of having made such a choice. This shows that even our most basic experiences of free will are decided and determined by our brain before we become aware of them.
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Nature Vs Nurture

  • Implications of nativism and empiricism: nativists suggest that our inherited genetic make-up determines our characteristics and behaviour, whilst the environment has little input. Empiricists would suggest that behaviour can be changed by altering environmental conditions and desirable behaviours are selectively reinforced whilst undesirable behaviours are punished or ignored.
  • Shared and unshared environments: even siblings raised within the same family may not have experienced exactly the same upbringing. The idea of shared and unshared environments suggests that individual differences mean that siblings may experience life events differently. This means that even MZ twins raised together do not show perfect concordance rates, which supports the idea that heredity and the environment cannot be meaningfully seperated.
  • Constructivism: the notion that genes and environment interact is elaborated by constructivism. People create their own 'nurture' by actively selecting environments that are appropriate for their 'nature'. It is impossible and illogical to seperate nayure and nurture influences on behaviour.
  • Relationship to other debates: a strong commitment to either a nature or nurture position corresponds to a belief in hard determinism. Nativists and empiricists equate to biological determinism and environmental determinism respectively.
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Holism and Reductionism


  • Strength: there are aspects of social behaviour that only emerge within a group context and cannot be understood at the level of the individual group members. In the Stanford prison experiment, it could not be understood by studying the participants as individuals but rather their interactions and behaviours of the group. This shows that holistic explanations provide a more complete and global understanding of behaviour than reductionist approaches.
  • Weakness: holistic explanations tend not to complete rigorous scientific testing and can become vague and speculative as they become more complex. When it comes to finding solutions for real-world problems, lower level explanations may be more appropriate.


  • Strength: a reductionist approach often forms the basis of scientific research. In order to create operationalised variables it is necessary to break target behaviours down into constiturnt parts which makes it possible to conduct experiments and record observations. This gives psychology greater credibility, placing it on equal terms with the natural scienes.
  • Weakness: reductionist approaches have been accused of oversimplifying complex phenomena leading to a loss of validity which means that reductionist explanations can only ever form part of an explanation.
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Idiographic and Nomothetic


  • Strength: the idiographic approach has in-depth qualitative methods meaning they provide a complete and global account of the individual. This complements the nomothetic approach by shedding light on general laws or challenging the laws. Findings may reveal important insights and contribute to our overall understanding.
  • Weakness: supporters of the idiographic approach must recognise the narrow and restricted nature of their work. Meaningful generalisations cannot be made without further examples. Methods associated with the idiographic approach tend to be the least scientific and are open to bias.


  • Strength: the processes involved in the nomothetic research tend to be more scientific - testing under standardised conditions, using data sets, statistical analysis, prediction and control. This gives psychology a greater scientific credibility.
  • Weakness: have been accused of losing the whole person within psychology. Participants are treated as a series of scores rather than people and their subjective experience is ignored. May sometimes overlook the richness of human experience.
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Ethical Implications

  • Benefits of socially sensitive research: Sandra Scarr (1988) argues that studies of underrepresented groups and issues may promote a great sensitivity and understanding of these. This can help reduce prejudice and encourage acceptance. This suggests socially sensitive research may play a valuable role in society.
  • Framing the question: Sieber and Stanley (1988) warn that the way the questions are phrased and investigated may influence the way in which findings are interpreted. For example, Kitzinger and Coyle (1995) note research into 'alternative relationships' has been guilty of heterosexual bias within which homosexual relationships were compared and judged against heterosexual norms.
  • Who gains?: socially sensitive research has been used by government and other institutions to shape social policy and without full consideration of the moderating effects on the envrionment and characteristics such as intelligence. Research that seeks to manipulate the public has obvious ethical implications and raises the issue of who benefits from such research.
  • Social control: in the 1920's and 30's in a large number of states in the US, the 'feeble-minded' such as those with low intelligence, addicts and the mentally ill were forced to be sterilised as they were 'unfit to breed'. This was supported by many scientific and psychological communities. Due to this, it is an arguments against its widespread adoption.
  • Costs and benefits: any research that has pissble ethical implications or is socially sensitive may be subject to scrutiny by an ethical committee. Some of the social consequences of research involving vulnerable groups may be difficult to anticipate. Assessments of the 'worth' of the research are invariably subjective and the real impact of research can only ever be known once it has been made public.
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