Psychology - Issues And Debates
When evaluating psychological research there are many issues and debates to consider. These issues may determine whether the research is valid or reliable.
If psychological research is biased towards the female or male gender then it is known as gender bias. Gender bias does not provide a clear view of behaviour as it can only be applied to the gender that was studied.
Andocentric is a word used to describe a dominantly male perspective on the research being conducted.There are two forms of andocentric bias; alpha-bias and beta-bias. Alpha-bias is when the study exaggerates the differences between males and females to the point where they become stereotypes. The other form of andocentric bias is beta-bias. Beta-bias is where the differences between males and females are not taken into account and the male view is applied to both the genders. This means that any life experiences that are unique to females are not taken into consideration, which ultimately can mean that the research is invalid. An example of psychological research that has beta-bias is Freud's theory of psychosexual development. The theory assumed that male behaviour was normal or standard and female behaviour was then described as a deviation from this.
Some psychologists argue that gender biases arise from the fact that men and women have different preferences when it comes to research techniques. It was suggested that men prefer (and thus do better in) controlled environmental studies compared to women who prefer less controlled, more conversational techniques (such as interviews). Depending on which research technique was used, the results are biased towards women or men.
However, it's not only just the actual research that can have gender biases, the way that the results are used and applied in real life can influence gender biases in society. For example, Bowlby's theory of attachment states that maternal deprivation before a certain age can lead to the child having attachment problems in later life. This research implies that women should stay at home and look after their children or they may risk their child having long-term problems. This could mean that mothers don't to return to work and this therefore increases gender inequality in society.
It was found that women perform better on verbal tasks compared to men who tend to perform better with spatial tasks. Acknowledging subtle differences like this between men and women rather than stereotyping them may aid future research.
Cultural bias in psychology is where research into a specific behaviour is conducted in one culture and then applied to other cultures where it may not be as relevant. There are different types of cultures, for example individualistic (where importance is based on an individuals achievement) and collectivist (where importance is based on social groups). If psychological research was conducted in either one of these cultures, it could not be applied to the other as they do not share the same societal values/beliefs. Ethnocentrism is when you evaluate a different culture based on the standards of your own culture, when this occurs during psychological research it can lead to ethnocentric bias. Ethnocentric bias can lead to the differences between the two cultures being exaggerated and can ultimately lead to a distorted view of these differences and the beliefs held by the other culture.
The strange situation is a good example of psychological research that has ethnocentric bias. The strange situation measures the attachment of an infant and their caregiver using various criteria (such as separation from their caregiver and the presence of a stranger). In most western cultures value is put on the dependence of an infant on their caregiver and therefore separation will usually cause the infant distress - this is considered normal. However in other cultures independence of the infant from their caregiver is encouraged and this is considered normal. You can see that we cannot therefore apply the criteria of the strange situation (which was developed in a western society) to other cultures.
A way to overcome ethnocentric bias is to take an emic approach. An emic approach refers to investigating a culture from within the culture itself and therefore the results of the investigation tend to have a lot more ecological validity.
The Nature Nurture Debate
The nature nurture debate is one that crops up a lot in all different kinds of psychological theories.
- The nature part of the debate refers primarily to genetics and states that the characteristics/behaviours/traits that we show are determined by the genetic make-up that we acquire from our parents. Nativists are people that strongly support the nature side of the debate and agree with all the biological or evolutionary approaches to psychological theories.
- The nurture part of the debate refers to the influences that life experiences have on an individual's. It states that emotional, social or physical experiences shape a person's behaviour, characteristics and traits. Empiricists are people who strongly support the nurture side of the debate and agree with all the psychological/behavioural approaches to psychological theories.
However, nativist and empiricist approaches are very extreme approaches and it is often accepted that psychological theories have both nature and nurture aspects to them. For example, research into depression has shown that there may be a gene that makes a person vulnerable to depression (nature) that may be triggered when a major life event occurs in their life (nurture).
Determinism is the argument that we do not have control over our own actions and behaviours but rather our biology, past experiences and upbringings etc. determine how we are today. Determinism is the belief that everything that happens is the only possible thing that could happen. Determinism is quite an extreme psychological viewpoint and many people believe that it is too simple to explain something as complex as human behaviour. Many psychologists argue that determinism takes away the idea of free will and dehumanises people. However, there are many examples of psychological research and theories that are deterministic. For example Social Learning Theory to describe the media influence on behaviour suggests that any behaviour that we observe that receives a reward we will imitate. However, this is not the case as there are many moderating variables, such as gender, age and pre-existing tendencies that will affect whether or not someone imitates a rewarded behaviour they observe.
Reductionism is the argument that a person's behaviours and actions can be explained by one factor only. There are many types of reductionism for example genetic, which suggests that the behaviours we display are due to the predisposition we acquire from inherited genes from our parents. For example, if someone were to say that genetic vulnerability is the only reason why people acquire depression this would be reductionist because it states that genes are the only reason why something happens. This however is not the case as studies have shown that the genetic concordance rates of depression amongst twins are not 100% and therefore there must be another factor in the development of depression. Much like determinism, reductionism is a very extreme view point and it is rare that a psychological theory is reductionist because it is often accepted that many things can contribute to human behaviour.