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Biases

Sorry to break it to you, but you are biased. And that's okay - we are all biased to some degree. But do we know what biases are and how they work? Is there a way to avoid it? First, let us start with the basics - the definition of bias.

A bias is a false or inaccurate perception about a group of people or a set of beliefs. These perceptions are often based on stereotypes relating to characteristics such as race, gender, or sexual orientation. If bias is not acknowledged, it can cause harm.

However, not all biases are so obvious. Let's see why.

Unconscious or implicit bias

Unconscious or implicit bias is when our beliefs or attitudes are outside of our awareness. Unconscious or implicit bias exists without anyone knowing that they have these beliefs or attitudes.

We may associate a nurse as an adult female. Although we know that a nurse can be both a man and a woman, our unconscious bias may lead to this assumption without being aware of it.

An unconscious or implicit bias is not the same as an explicit bias, expressed in overt likes or dislikes of a person or group.

An example of an explicit bias is a racist statement.

Perhaps you can think of many more examples of unconscious or implicit bias, either your own or someone else's.

Bias in psychological research

It is important to acknowledge bias in psychological research because biased research results can undermine their universality.

Universality means that psychological findings and theories are applicable to all people.

Bias reduces the reliability of research. Psychological research can be biased in the following ways:

  • Biased sample may not represent the wider population, so the results are biased toward the group (s) described in the sample.
  • Biased interpretation of findings: Results may also be extrapolated to other groups when this is inappropriate (eg, when differences between groups have not been accounted for).

Types of biases in psychological research

Let us consider some types of bias that may occur in psychological research. For each type of bias, you will find a separate article describing it in more detail.

Cultural and subcultural bias

Cultural bias involves applying research, findings, or theories from one culture to another. In psychological research, many results were made by Western psychologists and academics. Therefore, they cannot be applied universally to other cultures.

Biases [+] Cultural Bias [+] StudySmarterStudy of cultural differences reduces the cultural bias, Pixabay

Cultural bias can arise when researchers assume that there must be vast differences between cultures or when they fail to acknowledge the actual differences between cultures.

It would be culturally biased to generalize findings based on the social and emotional development of American working-class children to all working-class children. There are likely several cultural differences, and these should be explored to avoid cultural bias.

Subcultural bias is when research, findings, or theories from one subculture are applied to another. A subculture is a smaller culture within a larger culture. Within a culture, there may be many subcultures that are distinct and grouped in some way. Subcultures can be grouped by:

  • Age.
  • Class.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Religious beliefs.
  • Language and ethnic background.
  • Disability.

Subcultural bias is the assumption that outcomes apply equally to all members of a culture without considering the differences between subcultures.

Researchers conducted a study to examine the relationship between age and memory and concluded that it is indeed possible that memory improves with age. However, the researchers did not recruit participants older than 45. This could be due to subculture bias, as the study did not include older people, and therefore it may be inappropriate to generalize the results to them.

Avoiding bias: cross-cultural research

Cross-cultural psychology, also known as cross-cultural research, looks at the influence of cultural factors on behavior. Studying behaviors across cultures helps researchers understand which behaviors are innate and which are learned. Cross-cultural research can help researchers avoid cultural bias.

Ethnocentrism

We will now look at the bias of ethnocentrism in psychological research.

Ethnocentrism is the belief or assumption that a culture's ideas, values, and practices are 'natural' or 'right'. The standards of one culture are used to judge other cultural groups or races. This can negatively portray other cultures' ideas or practices as they are compared to a 'correct' culture.

In psychological research, ethnocentrism limits universality as researchers may not consider cultural diversity.

Mary Ainsworth's Strange Situation Procedure

Ainsworth found that children's most common attachment type was also the 'healthiest' attachment type. Ainsworth's sample consisted of white, middle-class American mothers and infants. The study was criticized for not taking into account cultural differences in child-rearing and for assuming that the results, obtained only from white middle-class Americans, represented the 'normal' standard.

Biases, mothers breastfeeding children, StudySmarter

Mary Ainsworth's Strange Situation Procedure was considered ethnocentric, Katarina Gadže, StudySmarter Originals (in conjunction with Pixabay images)

Reducing ethnocentrism

Psychologists can take specific steps to reduce ethnocentrism in their research. These include:

  • Conducting cross-cultural research to assess which behaviors are universal and which are adapted.
  • Using an emic approach to cross-cultural research, ie, assessing cultures from an 'insider' perspective.
  • Practicing cultural relativism, ie, considering each culture's values, practices, and norms individually to avoid judgments by the standards of another culture.

Gender bias

Gender bias means treating one gender more or less favorably based on gender stereotypes rather than actual differences. Gender bias can lead to misleading or inaccurate scientific results, perpetuate gender stereotypes, and justify gender discrimination.

Biases, gender bias, StudySmarterAlpha bias, androcentrism and gynocentrism are types of gender bias, Pixabay

The main types of gender bias

In psychology, there are three main types of gender bias. Let us take a look:

Alpha bias

Alpha bias is the exaggeration or emphasis on the differences between men and women. It makes one gender seem 'better' than the other. This usually involves devaluing the less 'superior' gender.

An example of alpha bias would be the theory that men are better at handling emotions than women. On the other hand, the idea that women are better at raising children would also contain an alpha bias.

Beta bias

Beta bias is the downplaying of differences between men and women. It refers to research that applies equally to both genders without considering gender differences within the research.

There are two types of beta bias, androcentrism and gynocentrism.

  • Androcentrism refers to the idea that male thinking and behavior is 'normal' or the standard. As a result, female thinking and behavior would likely be perceived as 'abnormal' as it deviates from the 'norm'.
  • Gynocentrism refers to the idea that female thinking and behavior is 'normal' whilst male thinking and behavior is abnormal. As mentioned earlier, deviations from the 'norm' would likely perceive male thinking and behavior as 'abnormal'.

Gender bias in psychological research has consequences. Among the negative consequences is the fact that the stereotypes perpetuated by psychological research can be used to justify or discourage certain behaviors in political, educational, and social contexts.

If there is a stereotype that women are less assertive, this may discourage women from behaving that way in the workplace, school, or family.

It is essential that you grasp the distinctions between the many sorts of gender bias so that you can determine why a specific theory or set of results may be problematic.

Biases - key takeaways

  • A bias is a false or inaccurate perception about a group or set of beliefs. Bias can be unconscious or implicit, meaning we are unaware of our biased beliefs or attitudes.
  • Bias in psychological research can undermine the universality of findings. Research can be biased by its sample and interpretation of results.
  • Cultural bias occurs when research findings from one culture are applied to another. Subcultural bias occurs when research findings from one subculture are applied to another. Cross-cultural research examines the influence of cultural factors on behavior and can avoid cultural bias.
  • Ethnocentrism is the belief or assumption that a particular culture's ideas, values, and practices are 'natural' or 'right'.
  • Gender bias is when one gender is treated more or less favorably based on gender stereotypes rather than actual differences. There are three main types of gender bias in psychological research: alpha bias, androcentrism, and gynocentrism.

Frequently Asked Questions about Biases

Examples of biases in psychological research are cultural bias, subcultural bias, ethnocentrism, and gender bias.

A bias is a false or inaccurate perception about a group of people or a set of beliefs. These perceptions are often based on stereotypes relating to characteristics such as race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Three biases in psychological research are cultural bias, ethnocentrism and gender bias.

Implicit bias, or an unconscious bias, is when our beliefs or attitudes are outside our awareness or control. Implicit bias is held without someone knowing they have it.

Final Biases Quiz

Question

What is a bias?

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Answer

A bias is a false or inaccurate perception about a group of people or a set of beliefs. These perceptions are often based on stereotypes relating to characteristics such as race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Show question

Question

What is unconscious or implicit bias?

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Answer

Unconscious or implicit bias is when our beliefs or attitudes are outside our awareness or control. For example, an automatic association of a nurse being female.

Show question

Question

What is universality in the context of psychological research?

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Answer

Universality means that psychological findings and theories are applicable to all people.

Show question

Question

In which two ways can psychological research be biased?

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Answer

Through a biased sample and biased interpretation of results.

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Question

What is cultural bias?

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Answer

Cultural bias occurs when research findings from one culture are applied to another.

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How can cultural bias arise in psychological research?

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Answer

Cultural bias can arise when researchers assume there must be vast differences between cultures or if they fail to acknowledge real cultural differences.

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Question

What is a subculture?

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Answer

A subculture is a smaller culture within a larger culture. Subcultures are grouped in some way, e.g., through age, social class, or sexual orientation.

Show question

Question

What is ethnocentrism?

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Answer

Ethnocentrism is the belief or assumption that a culture's ideas, values, and practices are 'natural' or 'right'. The standards of one culture are used to judge other cultural groups or races.

Show question

Question

What is the impact of ethnocentrism? 

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Answer

Using one culture's standards to assess other cultural groups or races may negatively portray different cultures' ideas or practices compared to one 'right' culture.

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Question

How can psychologists reduce ethnocentrism?

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Answer

Psychologists can conduct cross-cultural research to assess which behaviours are universal and which are adapted. They can use an emic approach to cross-cultural research, i.e., assess cultures from an 'insider' perspective. They can also practice cultural relativism, i.e., considering each culture's values, practises, and norms individually to avoid judgments by the standards of another culture.

Show question

Question

What is gender bias?

Show answer

Answer

Gender bias means treating one gender more or less favourably based on gender stereotypes rather than actual differences.

Show question

Question

What are some impacts of gender bias in psychological research?

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Answer

Gender bias can cause misleading or inaccurate scientific results, perpetuate gender stereotyping and justify gender discrimination.

Show question

Question

Define alpha bias.

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Answer

Alpha bias is the exaggeration or emphasis on the differences between men and women. It makes one gender seem 'better' than the other. This usually involves devaluing the less 'superior' gender.

Show question

Question

Define beta bias.

Show answer

Answer

Beta bias is the downplaying of differences between men and women. It refers to research that applies equally to both genders without considering gender differences within the research.

Show question

Question

Which type of beta bias considers male thinking and behaviour the 'norm'?

Show answer

Answer

Androcentrism

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