Culture in psychology


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Discuss cultural bias in psychological research. Refer to examples of reseach in your answer. (16 marks).

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Cultural bias: Refers to the tendancy to ingore differences and interpret all phenomena through the 'lens' of ones own culture.

Ethnocentrism: Judging other cultures by the standards and values of one's own culture. This superiority may lead to prejudice and discrimination towards other cultures.

Cultural relativism: The idea that norms and values, as well as ethics and moral standards, can only be meanigful and understood within specific social and cultural contexts.

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The assumption that research findings will generalise globally.

Most research is carried out in the Western culture (90%, western white, middle class Americans).

It was assumed that non-western cultures are more 'primative' and less worthy of study.

Cross cultural research is time consuming, expensive and researchers often have limited resources.

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  • Asch (1951) - only US males used.
  • Milgram (1963) - Challenged the view that German soldiers were evil but used US participants.
  • Ainsworth (1970) - Used the norms and values of US culture to determine all attachment types.
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Assumptions of cultural bias (Berry 1969)

Etic research

Research from a specific culture is applied to other cultures to find universal laws.

Humans have the same physiology and many behaviours are found in all cultures eg. Language, attachment, aggression.

However, the research samples make it hard to generalise, causing bias and imposed etic.

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Assumptions of cultural bias (Berry 1969)

Emic research

Research based on a specific culture used to understand that culture from within.

Findings are not generalised and variations are established, reducing imposed etic.

However, bias can only occur by exaggerating differences between different cultures.

It is important not to neglect individual differences.

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Cultural relativism

Deviation from social norms: hearing voices is socially acceptable in some cultures, but in the UK it is a sign of mental abnormality.

Deviation from ideal mental health: personal achievements and self actualisation are traits that are not deemed important in collectivist cultures.

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Culturally the work of Margret Mead illistrates the differences across cultures and how the Western gender stereotype does not generalise across the world.

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Social Implications

Social implications provide support for cultural bias.

Culturally biased studies will produce culturally biased theories.

Cochrane & Sashidharan (1995) - People of African-Caribbean origin in the UK were up to 7X more likely than white people to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Littlewood & Lipsedge (1989) - Found African-Caribbean patients often prescribed stronger doses of medication than white patients, even though symptoms were the same.

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Individualism and collectivism

Individualism and collectivism provide support for cultural bias.

There is lots of support for cultural bias, with research studied in social influence and attachments. However...

Yahtaro & Osaka (1999) - 14/15 studies that compares US and Japan found no evidence of the traditional distinction between Individualism and collectivism. Suggests that cultural bias is less of an issue than it was.

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Cultural relativism vs universality

Berry's concept of imposed etic, that culture needs to be taken into consideration. But some behaviour is universal. 

Ekman (1989) - Facial expressions for emotions are the same all over human and the animal world.

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Unfamiliarity with research tradition

Unfamiliarity with research tradition goes against cultural bias.

Demand characteristics may be exaggerated when working with members of the local population (Smith Elbond 1996) and this may have an adverse effect on the validity of the research.

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Operationalisation of variables

Operationalisation of variables goes against cultural bias.

Variables under review may not be experienced in the same way by all participants, eg. behavioural expressions of emotions such as aggression may give rise to quite different behaviours within an indigenous population than they would in the west.

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Challenging implicit assumptions

Challenging implicit assumptions goes against cultural bias.

Conducting cross-cultural research may challenge our westerm ways of thinking and viewing the world.

Conclusions are likely to be more valid.

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