Issues and Debates - Psychology

  • Created by: Luke
  • Created on: 27-12-17 12:11

Gender in Psychology: Gender Bias

  • Androcentrism - psychology and society is male-dominated, so world view focused on men. 
  • Alpha Bias exaggerates differences and results in a gender (usually women) being devalued.
    • e.g. Freud's psychoanalytic theory viewed femininity as failed masculinity.
  • Beta Bias minimises differences, so women's needs are ignored.
    • e.g. stress research done on male response and assumed women responded in same way, but it was argued that women respond with tend-and-befriend.
  • Universality can be achieved by acknowledging differences without superiority, such as fight-or-flight versus tend-and-befriend.


  • Feminist  psychology - real differences, but social stereotypes cause more damage than any real biological differences; identifying these stereotypes can redress the balance. 
  • Bias in research methods - poor methodology may disadvantage one gender.
  • Reverse alpha bias - change preconceptions with research that over-values women, e.g. women are better learners (Cornwell et al.).
  • Avoiding beta bias - equal rights may disadvantage women as they have difference needs.
  • Assumptions need examining - Darwin's theory of sexual selection has been challenged as females are just as choosy and aggressive as men when needed to be.
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Culture in Psychology: Cultural Bias

  • Bias produces differences that don't exist
  • e.g. of alpha bias - individualist vs collectivist cultures; difference not found in meta-analysis of conformist behaviour.
  • e.g. of beta bias - Western-based IQ tests used to measure other cultural groups who appear less intelligent.
  • Ethnocentrism - assuming one's own beliefs are the correct ones. 
    • Alpha bias because differences leads to devaluing the other groups.
    • Beta bias because of assumptions that there are no differences in intelligence and therefore it is acceptable to use western IQ tests.
  • Cultural relativism - relating the behaviour of cultural groups to their own standards. 
    • Beta bias because may mistakenly assume symptoms of mental disorder are universal; results in misdiagnosis.
    • Alpha Bias if psychologists assume there are differences and overlook universals. 
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Cultural Bias Evaluation


  • Indigenous psychologies, each rooted in their own culture, such as Afrocentrism that seeks to understand the culture of Africans.
  • The emic-etic distinction - indigenous psychology is an emic approach; an etic approach can use indigenous researchers for data collection.
  • Bias in research methods - samples in textbooks mainly American and mainly middle-class, young adults. 
  • Consequences of cultural bias - US Army IQ tests led to enduring and damaging stereotypes about black and immigrant populations. 
  • Worldwide psychology community meets much more now than 50 years ago, which should reduce ethnocentrism and cultural bias. 
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Free Will and Determinism


  • Hard Determinism - all behaviour is determined, there is NO free will.
  • Soft Determinism - biological factors and past experience present a range of choices; we feel more free in situations with a little more constraint.
  • Biological Determinism - individual genes or neurotransmitters.
  • Environmental Determinism - all behaviour caused by previous experiences, as in classical and operant conditioning. Stimulus-response (S-R) can explain phobias, aggression and gender development.
  • Psychic Determinism - adult personality is caused by a mix of innate drives and early experience.
  • Scientific Determinism - science seeks causal relationships by manipulating the IV and observing the effect on the DV.

Free Will

  • Humanistic approach - self-determination is required for mental health, otherwise can't take control of negative behaviours. 
  • Moral responsibility - adults accountable for behaviour regardless of innate factors or poor early environment.
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Free Will and Determinism Evaluation

Determinism Evaluation

  • Genetic Determinism - twin studies do not show 100% concordance rates even with identical genes. 
  • Environmental Determinism - twin studies also show that there is some genetic contribution; therefore experience is not sole determinant.
  • Scientific Determinism - even in the physical sciences relationships are regarded as probabilistic; determinist research in psychology oversimplifies human behaviour. 
  • Does it matter? - A determinist position suggests criminals might excuse their behaviour on genetic grounds or that mental disorder must be treasted using drugs or conditioning. 

Free Will Evaluation

  • The illusion of free will - being able to make choices does not mean you are free, still under the laws and rules. 
  • Culturally relative - free will may be less important in collectivist cultures.
  • Research support - brain activity before a decision was made; however, it was found it is a readiness potential, not an intention to move.  
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The Nature-Nurture Debate

  • Nature - innate influences which may appear at any stage of life.
    • Genetic explanations - MZ twins more likely to both develop SZ than DZ twins.
    • Evolutionary explanations - attachment is adaptive because it aids survival and reproduction; it reliws on genetic transmission.
  • Nurture - the social and physical environment/experiences; we are born as a blank slate.
    • Behaviourism - classical and operant conditioning can explain the formation of attachment.
    • Social learning theory - the urge to be aggressive may be biological, but we learn how to express this through direct and indirect reinforcement (Bandura).
    • Other explanations, e.g. Bateson's double bind theory of SZ is based on experience. 
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Nature-Nurture Evaluation


  • Nature/Nurture can't be seperated - nature and nurture have an impact on most things.
  • Diathesis-stress - a person's nature (diathesis) is only expressed under certain conditions of nurture (stressor).
  • Nature affects nurture - indirect genetic influences: reactive (behaviour changes the environment), passive (parents influence the home environment) or active (niche picking).
  • Nurture affects nature - Neural plasticity, as in research done on spatial memory in taxi drivers.
  • Epigenetics - material in each cell that acts as switches to turn genes on and off, which is passed on to subsequent generations. Explains why MZ twins and clones are not identical. 
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Holism and Reductionism


  • Cannot predict behaviour of whole system from individual parts.
  • Gestalt psychology - concerned with perception; the whole does not equal the sum of the parts.
  • Humanistic psychology - we react as a whole rather than a set of S-R links.
  • Cognitive psychology - connectionist networks for memory behave as a whole. 


  • Levels of explanation - highest = cultural/social, middle = psychological, lowest = biological.
  • Biological reductionism - behaviour explained in terms of hormones, neurotransmitters, brain.
  • Environmental reductionism (S-R) - behaviour such as attachment explained in terms of a stimulus (e.g. food/mother) causing a response (pleasure). 
  • Experimental reductionism - use of operationalised variables in experimental research. 
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Holism and Reductionism Evaluation

  • Danger of lower levels of explanation - the real meaning of behaviour may be overlooked,  e.g. prescribing drugs for hyperactivity which might be due to family problems.
  • Biological reductionism - drug therapies have only had partial success and may block possibility of more successful psychological therapies.
  • Environmental reductionism - may be appropriate for non-human animals but ignores influence from higher levels, e.g. emotion.
  • Experimental reductionism has been productive but may not represent real life, e.g. research on eyewitness testimony by Yuille and Cutshall didn't support experimental research.
  • The mind-body problem - materialism assumes that physical states (e.g. REM electrical activity) cause mental events (dreams); alternatively dualists suggest mind and body interact in both directions; the mind can cause physical changes.
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Idiographic and Nomothetic Approaches to Psycholog

The Idiographic Approach

  • Focus on individuals and their unique characteristics as a way to understand human behaviour.
  • Qualitative research - focuses on depth (details) of one individuall use of qualitative methods (e.g. unstructured interviews).
  • Examples - Freud's case studies (e.g. Little Hans), humanistic research into subjective experience

The Nomothetic Approach

  • Study of large numbers of people to establish laws about behaviour.
  • Quantitative research - large data sets used to work out averages and conduct statistical tests, producing normative data about behaviour. 
  • Examples - biological approach (general principles, e.g. stress response), behaviour approach (laws of conditioning), cognitive psychology (case studies have to be used for abnormal behaviour), Eysenck's personality theory.
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Idiographic and Nomothetic Approaches Evaluation

  • Focus on the individual level - humanistic and qualitative psychologists felt that nomothetic psychology has lost sight of what it was to be human.
  • Scientific basis - humanistic psychology may not be evidence-based but idiographic approaches do seek to be systematic and objective. 
  • Being able to make predictions - Allport argued that predictions can be made from individual cases, but that makes his approach nomothetic.
  • Time consuming - nomothetic techniques can produce large data sets and then analyse them more quickly.
  • Combined methods - the idiographic approach ends up being nomothetic (Holt); start with a nomothetic approach and then focus on idiographic (Millon); combine approaches, e.g. Freud.
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Ethical Implications of Research Studies and Theor

Social Sensitivity

  • The research process may have social consquences:
    • Research question may damage some groups.
    • Conduct of research, especially confidential.
    • Institutional context may lead to data misuse or misunderstanding.
    • Interpretation and application of findings, e.g. IQ tests used to promote black stereotypes.
  • Ethical issues in socially sensitive research; for example:
    • Privacy - participants may reveal more than they intended.
    • Valid methodology - poor methods omitted from media reports.
    • Values - scientists seek general laws, whereas participants interested in individuals. 
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Ethical Implications of Research Studies and Theor

  • The wider impact of research - family, co-workers, etc. may be affected and need safeguarding.
  • Inadequacy of current ethical guidelines, e.g. researchers not required to consider the use of their research.
  • May disadvantage marginalised groups who are not included as research participants and then research findings can't be applied to them.
  • Can't avoid socially sensitive research - psychologists have a responsibility to tackle difficult topics. 
  • Engaging with the public and policymakers - individual psychologists should actively promote the benefits of their research. 
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