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CULTURAL BIAS

Cultural Bias can be defined by HOFSTED as the ‘collective programming of the mind that
distinguishes members from one group from another.’ This is based on the beliefs and
attitudes that they share.
The psychologist HARE-MUSTIN identified the following different types of cultural bias:
ethnocentrism and euro-centrism, emic and etic constructs, and historical bias.

Ethnocentrism is the effect that one’s own cultural perspective can have on perceptions of
other cultures. Our own beliefs and attitudes are taken as a standard that we measure other
cultures by, and we can end up seeing our own culture as superior.

One psychological study into cultural bias was by MILGRAM who studied obedience &
authority. He had ethnocentric views because he conducted his study in the USA and then he
generalised the results worldwide by using his own American culture and standard to which
other cultures should be measured against as he viewed America as superior, which is a
classic view of ethnocentrism.
MILGRAM found that 65% of the male participants administered electric shocks up to 450
volts. Variations of this study was conducted in different countries to find if it had any
cultural relativism and if Milgram was correct in being ethnocentric, the following results
were found:
♦ MANN – 16% obedience in Australia
♦ MEEUS – 92% obedience in Holland
♦ BOND – 85% in Fiji’s teachers

These findings could be due to actual cultural differences, or maybe the procedures were
slightly different in the different settings due to possible cultural restraints. Therefore,
Milgram shouldn’t have been ethnocentric; he should have tried to keep an open mind in
term of cultural bias.

In terms of Milgram’s study and the variations that were conducted in different cultures,
obedience differs in meaning, some people felt obliged to stay in Milgram’s study due to
1950s American society was very obedient anyways. Therefore, it also shows historical
bias in terms of cultural bias. For instance, in some cultures looking someone directly in the
eye can be seen as disrespectful, where as in other it is seen as a sign of respect – differences
such as these need to be taken into account when studying different cultures.

Therefore, the operalisation and manipulation of the IV (independent variable) must be the
same for each replication of the study in all cultures.

Milgram’s study also had similar participants all coming from Yale University of similar
age. Their social background and experiences would also be similar due to living in the same
individualistic culture and American ethnicity. The results from the original study would
therefore be different to those carried out in other cultures because university life differs
amongst cultures, especially western against eastern.

Etic constructs: behaviour is analysed in terms of what behaviours are universal, e.g.
phonetics is the universal study of vocal sounds. The observer uses rules that are generalised
in terms of looking at beliefs and categories. This is biased because it ignores the cultural
context of any behaviour people will use in their own culture as a standard to make
judgements and interpretations.

Mental illness is diagnosed by using DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) or ICD


(International Classification of Diseases). Both of these standards are used with individuals
regardless of their cultural background. This assumes that the behaviours of the dominant
white culture should be taken as standard and should be applied to all. Such measures are
very western in their approach and can be seen as biased.

COCHRANE stated that hearing voices is a symptom of schizophrenia in many western


cultures, however in some African cultures, this symptom would be regarded as quite normal,
and the person might even be viewed as special and gifted. This misapplication of standard
might explain why African-Caribbean immigrants in the UK are 7 times more likely to be
diagnosed with schizophrenia than in white people.

There are alternative explanations for cultural differences in diagnosis of mental illnesses. It
has been suggested that immigrants might experience a higher level of stress due to living in
a strange country and having to acclimatise to it. They might also face racism and prejudice,
which adds to stress and could lead to mental illness.

Research by Cochrane found some contradictory evidence that immigrants from South Asia
have stress, but do not seem to be diagnosed with mental illness as much as the African-
Caribbean’s. Could this be because South Asians have a great deal of support from family
members (extended) and therefore do not experience much stress or mental illness?

Another psychological study into cultural bias was by AINSWORTH & BELL: the Strange
Situation into developmental psychology. They also conducted this study in the USA, which
makes it another form of ethnocentrism because they assumed that children’s behaviour
would be the same worldwide. They found that:
♦ 66% were securely attached
♦ 22% were anxious avoidant
♦ 12% were anxious resistant

VAN IJZENDORN extended this study in Germany and found that:


♦ 40% were securely attached
♦ 49% were anxious avoidant
♦ 11% were anxious resistant

This is because children living in Germany grow up to be very independent of their mothers
and they interact more with strangers, which means that this particular culture favours
independence from a young age unlike the American individualistic culture. Therefore,
Ainsworth and Bell’s ethnocentric views were proven incorrect.

The ways to minimise cultural bias of cross-cultural studies includes translation of


the spoken and written words in a way that findings are communicated accurately. In order to
minimise cultural bias, the results should be faithfully and honestly translated.
Another way to minimise cultural bias is not to include tests that have been devised in
certain cultures. For instance, an IQ test in the UK that would be used is likely to have been
devised in the UK (emic construct) and then this will be used to compare with people from
other cultures (etic construct), which is not very fair.
Ethnography might be a way forward whereby anthropologists collect information
from many different cultures about language, beliefs, behaviours, etc and this can help inform
psychologists when they are testing people from certain cultures that they have little
information about e.g. EFE tribe in Zaire by TRONICK.
The growth in psychology means that we will become more enlightened about how
people in different cultures behave. There are more psychologists emerging in Asia at the
moment than in Europe (YAMAGISHI)