- Psychology as we know it is, by and large, the psychology of the western male.
- Theories speak of behaviour in a gender-neutral way
- Often ignores the fact the theory is based upon observations of totally male samples
- for example, Zimbardo’s (1973) prison simulation experiment
- Male behaviour becomes the norm against which all other behaviour is measured
- Gender bias reflects the traditional bias towards male issues, interests and concerns
- This is called androcentric bias
- Androcentrism may be found the ways research is carried out (the methodology)
- Researchers may rely on research designs that ignore gender as a variable worth considering
- Asch, Kohlberg and Erikson used only male participants, then generalised the findings as universal.
Gender Bias in Research Methods
Gender bias may be built into the research process at a number of stages
1. Stage 1 - how the question/the hypothesis is formulated
2. Stage 2 – the research methods – non-representative sampling, all males
3. Stage 3 - Stage 3 – analysing and interpreting the data
4. Stage 4 – in drawing conclusions.
5. Gender bias may produce theories giving invalid accounts of women’s experiences
6. May justify discrimination against women
1. Alpha-biased theories acknowledge real and enduring differences between men
and women, but
2. some alpha-biased theories are used to devalue women
3. Freud (1925) claimed that women are morally inferior because they do not have
to solve the moral dilemma of the Oedipus conflict; therefore women have an
4. Erikson, in his stage theory of adult development, argued that women have no
independent identity of their own until they become housewives and mothers
- Beta-biased theories tend to ignore or minimise differences between men and women, basically treating all humans as if they were male
- most psychological theories tend to be beta-based
- ‘fight-or-flight’ - generalisation was based on studies involving mostly males
- Taylor (2000) claims women under stress likely to switch to tending and befriending
- differences in male and female hormone activity, i.e. women respond differently to men in stressful situations because they have different psychological and biological needs
- Kohlberg’s work on how children develop their moral reasoning in stages has been criticised because it does not take gender differences into account
- Gilligan (1982) pointed out the important fact that Kohlberg’s work is male-biased – all the original children used by Kohlberg were boys
- Boys and girls are socialized in different ways; therefore, their morality reflects these differences, claims Gilligan
- boys more likely to value abstract notions of justice and fairness; girls more likely to value relations with people
- more unbiased research needs to be done on how boys and girls develop their ability to make moral decisions
The Way Forward
Some psychologists argue that the study of sex differences should be abandoned and that other more relevant questions should be asked. They suggest there is more value in asking what are the similarities between men and women rather than what are their differences.
Other psychologists argue that attention should be focused on how the concept of gender becomes established as a social fact in different situations. This would entail how factors such as the family, institutions such as schools, beliefs and language shape gender within a culture or subculture.
Whatever approach is taken, there is a strong need to try and ensure that psychological research is non-sexist, thus minimising the possible detrimental effect of such research.