WJEC A2 Psychology PY4 - Controversies: Issues of Culture Bias in Psychology

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Culture Bias

  • culture bias is the tendency to judge all people in terms of own cultural assumptions or standards
  • culture bias is not concerned with genuine differences if they exist but it is concerned with 'assumed' differences which come from the distorted view that psychologists have because of their own cultural differences
  • eg the belief (not evidence) that certain races may have lower IQs than others

Imposed Etic (to mention throughout answer)

  • researchers make assumptions that culture plays little/no role in development or expression of human behaviour. Assessments use standard (Western) instruments and interpretations are made at face value. Imposed etics can result in beta bias (presumption all people are similar and therefore minimises importance of cultural influences when may be crucial)
  • alpha bias = presumption all people are different between groups + exaggerates importance of cultural influences when may be minimal = use diff theories 4 diff cultures
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Research into Intelligence

If Psych is science, it should be free from culture bias. But there are accusations of culture bias in psych. Perhaps suggest/exaggerate diffs between/within cultures when none or ignore or underestimate them when they do exist. But are accusations of culture bias real biases or uncomfortable truths which reflect genuine differences/similarities?

1. Research into Intelligence

POINT = one eg of culture bias, which may have exaggerated the diffs between cultures, is research into intelligence. Today African American children in USA score on average 10 pts lower than white children on range of IQ tests (although was more and is continuing to narrow) - led to accusations that this diff is not real but but reflects bias

EXAMPLE/EXPLANATION = IQ tests biased towards certain ethnicities and cultures as designed by Western, white, middle class educated individuals. Many argue qs on them contain refs to vocab, objects, general knowledge and experiences familiar to Western, white, middle class, educated individuals, supporting idea cultural bias affects intelligence as qs only appropriate for culture that designed them

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Research into Intelligence

COUNTER ARGUMENT = (-) however, Arthur Jensen (1980) and others believe differences between black and white scores in intelligence is 80% genetic (8 IQ points) and represents real diff in intelligence, suggesting cultural bias for intelligence tests does not exist. Others claim however that measuring tool for intelligence may not be culturally biased but reflects difference between ethnic groups in relation to intelligence. Not necessarily genetic but differences in intelligence levels between ethnicities may reflect poorer access to good quality education amongst certain cultural groups. Therefore research on intell not culturally biased but simply highlights diffs in opportunities to benefit intelligence

2. Ways of Dealing with Culture Bias in Intelligence Research

POINT = however, attempts have been made to overcome the accusation of culture bias in intelligence research recently

EXAMPLE/EXPLANATION = raising awareness of bias in intelligence tests by publishing alternatives like Chitling test (Adrian Dove, 1971). Other tests developed like Raven's Progressive Matrices which suggested to be less culturally biased as rely less on vocab and are more pictorial. Other researchers tried to make definition of intell less culturally biased (Gardner's Multiple Intelligence and Sternberg's Triarchic Abilities definitions)

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Research into Intelligence

COUNTER ARGUMENT = (-) nevertheless even 'culture bias free tests' are biased if ppl not used to taking tests, or simply become anxious or believe they're bad at them. Eg Steel (1999) found if a person who is about to take intelligence test believes their particular ethnicity/gender group don't do very well (high stereotype threat) then ps doesn't do well. Bruner maintains 'a culture free test is the intelligence free test, for intelligence is a cultural concept' therefore suggesting impossible to have an IQ test without cultural bias, which means attempts to overcome this issue have largely failed

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Diagnosis of Abnormality

3. Diagnosis of Abnormality

POINT = diagnosis of abnormality has been another area of psych which has been criticised for culture bias

EXAMPLE/EXPLANATION = Harrison et al (1984) found that black Afro-Caribbean immigrants were 4-12 x more likely to be diagnosed with Sz and 17 x more likely to be sectioned than white people in UK, suggesting cultural bias in diagnosing mental disorders. To further support this accusation, Blake (1973) found psychiatrists were more likely to diagnose Sz if patient was described as African American rather than white even though written descriptions of patients + patients' symptoms exactly same (apart from detail of race). All suggests could be cultural bias in diagnosing mental disorders. Possibly due to:

  • cultural differences in communication style during diagnostic interview or cultural differences in spirituality/religion (eg Rastafarianism) which may lead to hearing of voices being thought of as Sz showing ignorance of psychiatrist)
  • inaccuracy of the DSM diagnostic tool produced by APA in the USA that is applied to cultures beyond - assumed that madness as detected and measured in USA will be the same globally (beta bias resulting from an imposed etic)
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Diagnosis of Abnormality

COUNTER ARGUMENT = (-) however, some researchers argue increase in black ppl being diagnosed with mental disorders more than whites may reflect genuine diff due to "immigrant psychosis". Being a Black Afro-Caribbean immigrant in England leads to more mental illness due to stress from prejudice, discrimination and alienation. Veling (2007) also found Turkish immigrants in Holland had higher incidence of psychotic symptoms than white Dutch ppl, therefore suggesting not necessarily culture bias which shows difference between ethnicities in diagnosing mental disorders but possible genuine impact of living in a host country that causes a disorder. Also The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2005) believe culture bias may be minimal as now 1/3 of all psychs now from ethnic minority background. Perhaps issue changed since Blake study and accusation of culture bias in diagnosing abnormality is not a problem

4. Ways of Dealing with Culture Bias in Diagnosing Abnormality

POINT = in attempt to reduce accusations of cultural bias when diagnosing mental disorders, APA included 36 'culture bound syndromes' in DSMIV

EXAMPLE = Tabanka in Trinidad (depression in men abandoned by wives); Amok in Malaysian cultures (sudden and short lasting outburst of violent/homicidal aggression)

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Diagnosis of Abnormality

COUNTER ARGUMENT = (-) but one could argue then even labelling of 'culture bound' syndromes is in itself biased as implies these predominantly non-American syndromes are somehow exotic and that other non culture bound disorders are not bound to particular culture = arguably not true. Therefore possible this way of overcoming accusation is not successful as doesn't eradicate issue of culture bias in DoA, arguably causes more bias

5. Cross Cultural Social Influence Research

POINT = another possible source of cultural bias seen in cross cultural social influence research. Assumption all ppl in collectivist cultures (CC) are similar to each other and due to shared experience, behave differently from other cultural groups (pos. alpha bias) like members of individualist cultures (IC). Assumption seen as nothing more than culture bias

EXAMPLE/EXPLANATION = Smith and Bond (1996) suggest a difference of conformity between CC (where needs of group placed above needs of individual) and IC, claiming CC were more conformist. However to assume everyone is the same in CC and therefore all are more conformist in comparison to IC members is culturally biased, supporting idea that cross cultural social research like S+B's research is culturally biased and fails to consider individual diffs within cultures

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Cross Cultural Social Influence Research

COUNTER ARGUMENT = (-) however whether assumption that all ppl in CC are similar (and same for IC) is true has been questioned. Takano and Osaka (1999) reviewed 15 studies comparing US (individualistic) and Japanese (collectivistic). In 14/15 studies, greater variations within cultures than between them. Suggests collectivistic or individualistic cultural characteristics are simplistic, pos out of date, stereotypical.

Nevertheless, could be there were indeed more similarities between ppl in CC in the past (like Japanese) and previous research accurately described these two types of cultures (CC + IC) and were not culturally biased. H/w with globalisation, similarities of values and behaviours amongst members of CC may be decreasing/non-existent now and therefore must not conclude previous research was culturally biased just because replicated results (T+O 1999) inconsistent with original. Results could reflect genuine changes in behaviour over time of individuals within particular group and therefore perhaps cross cultural social influence research not culturally biased but highlights characteristics of cultures at particular time studies were conducted

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Cross Cultural Social Influence Research

6. Ways of Dealing with Culture Bias in Cross Cultural Social Influence Research

POINT = attempt to overcome culture bias in Psych has been growth of Afrocentrism, movement whose central proposition is that all black people have roots in Africa and that psych theories must therefore be African-centred and express African values to avoid culturally biased approaches from Western cultures

COUNTER ARGUMENT = (-) however one could argue this just replaces one bias with another, assuming that all blacks are similar again may disguise genuine diffs within Black population (beta bias). Therefore arguably, this intro of Afrocentrism and such movements (Eurocentrism, Americentrism) do not overcome culture bias successfully

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  • hardly surprising that much traditional psych represents a Western bias and difficult to see how this will change in future as much of funding for research lies in Western cultures, driven by Western governments and market forces which are conducted in Western Unis using predominantly white middle class educated students as pps (who need to participate to gain enough credits to be awarded a degree)
  • unfortunately culture bias has not yet been fully addressed in Psych. Approaches based on cultural relativism provides means to resolve cultural bias, as such an approach accounts for the diffs between cultures rather than trying to provide universal imposed etics
  • however this ignores the variation within a culture and certain within a country, which is usually made up of many subcultures. Thus, future research needs to address sub-cultural and cultural variations and accept differences as differences rather than deficiencies
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Lauren Batters


What grade were you given for this essay? thanks 

Zoey Jowett


Hi Lauren, sorry I haven't got back to you sooner! I got an A for this essay :) 

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