If you’re studying the full A level for AQA psychology then you will also need to revise Issues and debates which is part of unit 3 (7182) in your second year of study.
Issues and debates consists of the following according to the specification:
This breaks down as follows:
- Gender and culture in psychology including universality and bias:
- Gender bias (alpha bias, beta bias, androcentrism, universality)
- Cultural bias (alpha bias, beta bias, ethnocentrism, cultural relativism)
- Free will and determinism (hard determinism, soft determinism; biological, environmental and psychic determinism). The scientific emphasis on causal explanations.
- The nature-nurture debate; the relative importance of heredity and environment in determining behaviour; the interactionist approach.
- Holism and reductionism: levels of explanation in psychology. Biological reductionism and environmental reductionism (stimulus-response reductionism).
- Idiographic and nomothetic approaches to psychological investigation
- Ethical implications of research studies and theory, including reference to social sensitivity.
Gender Bias – Issues and Debates In AQA Psychology
Gender bias is a distorted view of behaviours that may be seen as typical of men and/or women. This occurs in two ways; Alpha bias or Beta bias.
This is the tendency to exaggerate differences between men and women resulting in one gender being devalued when compared to the other.
This is the tendency to ignore or minimise the differences between men and women. A study suffering from beta bias may ignore questions about how women are affected or it assumes that results will apply equally between men and women.
Society in general has been almost completely male dominated and psychology has been no different for most of its existence as a science. Most of the early psychologists were men and therefore they are likely to create theories and views of the world that represent a male perspective. This is known as androcentrism as it focuses on men often at the neglect of women and this is one possible consequence of beta bias.
Universality is the aim to create theories that apply to all people and genders including any differences they may have. When researchers create theories or explanations the aim is that they can be applied across genders, cultures, race etc.
Possible Gender Questions You May Be Asked:
- Explain what is meant by gender bias in psychology.
- Explain how androcentrism has affected/can affect psychological research.
- Explain the difference between alpha bias and beta bias.
- Outline an example of gender bias in psychological research.
- Discuss gender bias in psychology (16 marks)
Cultural Bias – Issues and Debates In AQA Psychology
Cultural bias is the tendency to ignore cultural differences and judge all people in terms of your own cultural assumptions. This leads to a biased and distorted judgement. There are two different ways theories can be culturally biased which is alpha bias and beta bias.
Alpha bias when applied to culture refers to theories that assume there are real differences between cultural groups. A good example of alpha bias is the assumption that there are differences between individualistic and collectivist cultures (for example the USA which is seen as individualistic and Japan which is seen as collectivist).
We may therefore make the assumption that individualistic cultures such as the US would be less conformist as they are less concerned with group norms compared to the Japanese.
Osaka et al (1999) assessed the validity of this comparing 15 studies in terms of individualism and collectivism. Of the 15 studies, 14 did not support this common view about differences in conformity. This suggests the view that individualism and collectivism in cultures may not be a real dimension and this distinction is therefore not valid or useful.
Beta bias when applied to cultures refers to theories that either ignore or minimise differences in cultures. They do this by assuming all people are the same regardless of culture and therefore the same theories and methods should apply to them.
A prime example of this is the way in which western cultures have measured intelligence. IQ tests devised by western psychologists measure intelligence from different cultures and assumes their view of intelligence applies across cultures equally. Western society see’s intelligence as something that is within the individual (a reflection of an individualistic culture). In contrast a collectivist culture such as ugandan society sees intelligence as a functional relationship depending on shared knowledge between an individual and society (Wober 1974). The results of people taking western IQ tests when they are from non-western cultures sees them perform poorly and appearing less intelligent therefore. Such tests are seen as an imposed etic because they are taking research devised by one group (in this case a measure devised in western society) and applying it to people from another group that may have very different beliefs, perceptions and behaviours.
Ethnocentrism – Issues and Debates In Psychology
Ethnocentrism is particular form of cultural bias and refers to the use of our own ethnic and culture as a basis for making judgements about other groups of people. With ethnocentrism there is a tendency to view our own groups beliefs, customs and behaviours as “normal” or even superior, whereas those of different cultures/background are seen as “strange”. This usually occurs when behaviours do not conform to the western viewpoint.
Alpha bias in ethnocentrism:
Ethnocentrism is an example of alpha bias because traditionally when making judgements of other people’s behaviours (in other cultures), researchers have considered their own western cultures to be better. This devalues the practices and viewpoints of other cultures that do not conform to the same viewpoint.
An example of this is Mary Ainsworth’s strange situation research (1970) as many argued this research only reflected the norms and values of American culture. Mary Ainsworth identified a key defining variable of secure attachment was a child showing moderate amounts of distress when left alone by the primary caregiver. This research did not factor in the rearing practices of other cultures such as Germany for example where mothers were seen as cold or rejecting rather than encouraging independence from their children.
Beta bias in ethnocentrism:
If psychologists believe their view on the world is the only view then this is a form of beta bias. Applying this to culture, the viewpoint that western devised IQ tests could be universally applied across all cultures is a form of beta bias as it assumes the American standard is universal.
Cultural Relativism – Issues and Debates In Psychology
Cultural relativism is pretty much the opposite of ethnocentrism. While ethnocentrism uses ones own culture to make judgements about others, cultural relativism is the idea that all cultures are worthy of respect and there is no global “right” and “wrong”. This viewpoint proposes it is important to consider the behaviour of the individual within their cultural context before making any judgements.
Alpha bias in cultural relativism:
Cultural relativism can lead to alpha bias when researchers assume differences exist causing the researchers to ignore the behaviours and results that are actually universal. Where as Ainsworth’s research is an example of an imposed etic (imposing her own US cultures understanding on other cultures), an emic approach functions from within a culture trying to identify behaviours that are specific to that culture.
John Berry argued that psychologists have been guilty of trying to impose an etic approach rather than being mindful of cultural relativism and acknowledging their research may only be limited to the culture in question for the research. Being able to recognise this is one way of avoiding cultural bias.
Beta bias in cultural relativism:
Beta bias is all about ignoring or minimising cultural differences. Cultural relativism is most relevant when we talk about how to define mental disorders with one definition looking at statistical infrequency. Behaviours that are statistically infrequent in one culture may be more apparent in other cultures and a prime example of this is schizophrenia. One of the symptoms is patients claiming to hear voices which is seen as rare in western cultures. In other cultures however this is claimed to be more common and assuming the same rules apply in diagnosis, this can result in people being diagnosed as mentally ill.
Possible Cultural Bias Questions You Can Be Asked:
- What is meant by cultural bias in psychology?
- Explain the term ethnocentrism.
- Explain the term cultural relativism.
- Outline an example of cultural bias in psychological research.
- Discuss cultural bias in psychology (16 marks).
Free Will – Issues and Debates (AQA Psychology)
Free will refers to how individuals are seen as capable of self-determination and having an active control in their own thoughts and behaviour i.e. they are free to choose and are not under control from any internal biological pressures or external influences either. The notion of free will implies that we are able to reject such influences and decide our own choices.
Determinism – Issues and debates (AQA Psychology)
Determinism is the opposite of free will and suggests that all human behaviour has a cause which should be identifiable. There are two types; hard determinism and soft determinism.
Hard determinism is the view that all behaviour has a cause and can therefore be identified and predicted as there is no free will involved. This assumes that everything we think or do is determined either by internal (biological) or external (psychological) influences which we have no control over.
Soft determinism is the view that although all behaviour has a cause, it acknowledges that there is an element of free will and that people have conscious mental control over their thoughts and behaviours in some circumstances if they choose to exercise this.
Biological, Environmental and Psychic Determinism
Biological determinism emphasises the role of biological factors that can cause behaviour. Three main examples come from biological mechanisms such genetics, brain physiology and biochemistry. Some physiological and neurological processes are not under our control such as the autonomic nervous system which can cause stress and anxiety and even mental disorders are believed to have a biological basis (genetics). Hormones such as testosterone have also been linked to aggression however no specific gene has been linked to behaviour in a way to say it will definitely occur. Parts of brain have also been linked to behaviours through areas of localisation and it therefore stands to reason if these areas are damaged they can affect behaviour in a way that is beyond the individual’s control.
Environmental determinism proposes behaviour is determined by environmental influences. Social psychologists such as BF Skinner described free will as an illusion and proposed all behaviour was the result of conditioning. His view was our choices were merely the sum total of reinforcements that have acted upon us throughout our lives to influence our current choices.
The work of social psychologists in conformity and obedience have illustrated how behaviour can be altered by environmental influences such as people. Social learning theory is less deterministic acknowledging cognitive processes are also involved such as motivation or confidence in their own ability to reproduce the behaviour.
Psychic determinism focuses on how a mix of early experiences and unconscious forces (innate drives) affect conscious thoughts and behaviours. This type of determinism is advocated by the psychodynamic approach and by Sigmund Freud who argued every action had a cause which was from the unconscious mind. Freud proposed behaviour was driven by the unconscious mind and because of this the individual is not able to explain how or why the engaged in behaviour without psychotherapy.
The Scientific Emphasis On Causal Explanations
One of the basic principles of science is every event in the universe has a cause and we should be able to explain this using general laws. Scientism in psychology is the use of methods from the natural sciences to try and find causal mechanisms for behaviour and thought. To treat psychology as a science requires researchers to employ the scientific method which means they must do the following:
- Develop a theory followed by a hypothesis (prediction) of what they think will happen.
- They must then use empirical methods to test this hypothesis, removing extraneous variables to demonstrate the independent variable affects the dependent variable.
- If there is shown to be a significant effect then this may be considered an indication that a causal explanation exists.
Psychologists have argued various explanations for behaviour and to test this they must do it in a scientifically rigorous way to establish causation.
Possible Questions On Free Will and Determinism
- Outline the free will and determinism debate in psychology
- Explain what is meant by soft determinism using an example.
- Explain the concept of biological determinism.
- Discuss the free will and determinism debate referring to two topics you have studied (16 marks)
The Nature-Nurture Debate
Innate biological influences are referred to as “nature” as they may be predisposed through biology in some way. Nurture has anything to do with the environment, learning and psychological influences. The nature-nurture debate is the argument over whether a person’s development is mainly due to their genes or whether environmental influences have shaped them.
Examples Of Nature
Research into families, twin and adoption studies have shown that the more closely related individuals are genetically, the more likely that both will exhibit similar behaviours or even disorders such as schizophrenia. Identical twin studies have shown that when one twin suffers from schizophrenia, the other is 40% more likely to develop the disorder too compared to non-identical twins (7%) highlighting the case for nature and genes.
Evolutionary explanations argue that any behaviour or characteristic that promotes survival or reproduction will be naturally selected. Such behaviours are adaptive and the genes for that behaviour are then passed down to subsequent offspring. An example of this is “attachment” which Bowlby argued was adaptive and due to nature. Forming an attachment with a caregiver means the infant is more likely to be protected and thus survive. This would mean attachment behaviours are then naturally selected and exhibited due to genetics as they have been passed on.
Examples Of Nurture
Explanations based on nurture argue that behaviours are learnt rather than innate and various explanations are offered for this. For example behaviourism (BF Skinner) argues that behaviour is learnt through the process of classical and operant conditioning. Attachment behaviour could be explained through classical conditioning as a child associates the parent to food (a pleasurable stimulus). Alternatively operant conditioning can explain attachment behaviour as the food removes the unpleasant feeling of hunger and is therefore rewarding.
Explanations such as social learning theory (Bandura) suggest behaviour is acquired through learning from other role models as well as cognitive factors such as an individual’s confidence and ability in acting out a particular set of behaviours which may be based on previous learning. Bandura acknowledged biological factors may play a role such as the urge to act out aggressively but the way in which the person expresses that is through learning and nurture.
The Relative Importance Of Heredity and Environment
Heredity is the process by which traits are passed from parents to their offspring. When referring to heredity this usually refers to genes being passed down (genetic inheritance).
No genetic cause for behaviour has been conclusively found so the extreme nature viewpoint is seen as too extremist. However we do know there are genes that are related to behaviours so the question is to what extent do genetics ultimately affect behaviour and how does learning and experience affect this? From a practical sense the nature-nurture question is impossible to answer because learning starts from the moment you are born. Trying to separate genes from learning is impossible and one route researchers have reverted to is examining twin studies and concordance rates. A key way to establish the role of heredity is through using identical twins (monozygotic twins) who share 100% of the exact same DNA. If behaviour is determined by DNA then their behaviours should be the same and if it isn’t then this would suggest the environment and learning (nurture) must have an overriding influence. Non-identical twins (dizygotic twins) are also used as they share only 50% of the same DNA. Comparing the two sets; if identical twins have a higher concordance rate for a particular behaviour set then it is assumed to be because of DNA. If non-identical twins have a higher concordance rate for behaviours then it is assumed to be because of nurture and the environment.
However a weakness here is researchers assume the only difference between identical and non-identical twins is their genetic makeup and Furnham (1996) argued this was erroneous. Identical twins look the same and its possible parents and people around them therefore treat them more similarly than non-identical twins who look different. This would mean the environment differs between the pairs of twins and any difference could actually be due to nurture rather than any genetic cause.
The Interactionist Approach
The interactionist approach combines both nature and nurture and sits in between the nature-nurture debate. This approach argues it is both nature (genes) and the nurture (environment) that combine to play a role in behaviour. The interactionist approach argues that genetics may predispose someone for certain behaviours and therefore gives them the potential to behave in particular ways. The environment however moderates this genetic predisposition and determines whether these behaviour sets will then be expressed. A good example for this is intelligence. A genetic predisposition may mean an individual has the ability to reach a certain level of intelligence however whether this is reached or not is dependent on the environment being ideal. For example opportunity, education, health, brain injury are all environmental factors that can affect this development. Another example of the interactionist approach is applied to schizophrenia here.
Possible Questions On The Nature-Nurture Debate:
- What is meant by heredity?
- Outline the nature-nurture debate in psychology.
- Explain what is meant by the interactionist approach in the nature-nurture debate using an example.
- Discuss the nature-nurture debate referring to two topics you have studied (16 marker
Holism and Reductionism – Issues and debates
Holism and reductionism is about explaining behaviour at different levels; do we look at behaviour as a whole or do we try break it down (reduce it) into the smaller parts? The argument that behaviour should be viewed as a whole refers to holism. Reductionism looks at explaining behaviour by breaking it down into its most basic levels.
Levels Of Explanation In Psychology
Levels of explanation in psychology refers to the idea that there are different ways of viewing the same phenomena in psychology with some explanations being more reductionist than others.
The image above gives you an idea of how behaviour can be explained and narrowed down with the more general explanations at the top and then the micro narrowed down explanations at the bottom.
- Higher level: Cultural and social explanations.
- Middle level: psychological explanations.
- Lower level: biological explanations of how hormones and genes affect behaviour.
Is the cause social factors or perhaps psychological factors within the individual? If we narrow it down further we can identify biological causes or actual chemistry involved. If we wanted to go even further we can consider quantum physics too. Each of these levels will have evidence supporting them or undermining them with some more than others however no single explanation can be taken in isolation to be correct. Researchers tend to refer to several levels together to get a more appropriate explanation.
Biological reductionism is about explaining behaviour using biological systems and explanations. This could be through genetics, physiology of the brain and body or even biochemistry. As we are reducing behaviour down to biological components as the cause we refer to this as biological reductionism as we ignore other factors such as social or psychological factors that can also influence people. An advantage of biological reductionism is it is more precise and can be a simple explanation and because of this more scientific than other explanations such as social or psychological. An explanation that is seen as biologically reductionist can also be tested more easily and effectively thus leading to the development of treatment. Issues of such explanations however are they are too simplistic and because of this often viewed as incomplete and only part of the cause.
Environmental (Stimulus-Response) Reductionism
Behaviourist propose all behaviour can be explained in terms of simple stimulus-response links and learned associations. This is seen as reductionist as it simplifies behaviour down to a stimulus-response action and thus focuses only behaviours that occur at the physical level ignoring the psychological (such as cognitive processes).
Classical conditioning is one example of an explanation that is reductionist as it attempts to explain behaviours through associations. For example a phobia of a snake can be explained as a learned response due to the experience of having been previously bitten. Fear and and pain become associated with the snake and when the individual sees the snake they experience a strong fearful reaction. Although this level of explanation can explain many behaviours there are others where it is far too simple and multiple levels of explanations are required. The simple nature of explanations based on stimulus-response makes them easy to test and prove. They also have the advantage of parsimony, which means that by being simple it can be seen as a more effective than complex explanations for the same behaviour. However a criticism is the simplicity of the explanation is a flaw in itself as human behaviour is complex usually with no single explanation.
Possible Questions For Holism and Reductionism:
- What is meant by holism?
- What is meant by levels of explanation in relation to reductionist explanations?
- Discuss biological reductionism in psychology.
- Give an example of environmental reductionism from an area of psychology you have studied.
- Discuss holism and reductionism in psychology (16 marks)
Idiographic and Nomothetic Approaches To Psychological Investigation
The Idiographic Approach
Idiographic approaches involve studying individuals focusing on their uniqueness and favouring qualitative methods in research to gain insights into human behaviour. The idiographic approach is seen as qualitative as it focuses on gaining insights through studying unique individuals rather than using numerical data gained from studying mass numbers of people. Idiographic studies use methods such as unstructured interviews, self-report measures, cases studies and thematic analysis. Freud’s psychodynamic approach is an example of the idiographic approach as he used case studies as a way to understand human behaviour. Humanistic psychology and the work of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow are other examples as they were interested in documenting only the conscious experience of the individual or “self”.
The Nomothetic Approach
The nomothetic approach involves the study of large numbers of people using the scientific approach to make generalisations and develop theories about behaviour across a population. This approach uses quantitative research as it is based on examining numbers, examples of which include measures of central tendency, dispersion, graphs and statistical analysis to find any statistical significance. A significant number of studies conducted by behaviourist, cognitive and biological psychologists would fall under the nomothetic approach. BF Skinner tested hundreds of rats, cats and various birds to establish the laws of learning for classical conditioning. By measuring large samples of people in laboratory tests, cognitive psychologists have been able to infer the processes and structure of memory. Biological psychologists have reviewed numerous brain scans on thousands of participants to make generalisations about the localisation of function. Hypotheses are scrutinised and analysed, general laws and principles are proposed and tested looking for significance from mass numbers of people all of which are key features of the nomothetic approach.
Possible Questions On The Idiographic and Nomothetic Approaches To Psychological Investigation:
- Explain what idiographic and nomothetic mean.
- Describe the idiographic approach to psychological investigation.
- Describe the nomothetic approach to psychological investigation.
- Evaluate the idiographic approach to psychological investigation.
- Evaluate the nomothetic approach to psychological investigation.
- Dosciss idiographic and nomothetic approaches to psychological investigations (16 marks).
Ethical Implications Of Research Studies and Theories (including reference to social sensitivity)
When we talk about ethical implications we are talking about the impact that psychological research can have in terms of the rights of other people including participants. Ethical implications arise as psychological research can influence public policy as well as how society may view particular groups of people. Deception and privacy are some of the ethical issues raised by research which also has to balance the rights of individual participants against the need for psychologists to produce research that will be valid and useful. One ethical implication is how research findings are then used and interpreted by others potentially in detrimental ways.
Sieber and Stanley (1988) put forward four aspects within the research process which may raise ethical issues and consequences;
The first was the research question itself: For example conducting research investigating how IQ differs between different racial groups or even questioning whether homosexuality is inherited can lead to social consequences for groups of people involved. One group may be seen as less capable or stigmatised within society affecting their social mobility because of such research and the ethical implications need to be fully considered before conducting any research that may be abused or misrepresented by the media.
The second looked at the conduct of research and treatment of participants: The main aspect of this considered the confidentiality of the participants for themselves and how information they share is treated; i.e. if they confess to murder is this reported or kept confidential.
The institutional context was the third issue raised; research may be funded by private institutions who may have their own agenda or misuse the data purposefully or accidentally.
Lastly is the issue of the interpretation and application of findings. The findings of research may be used for purposes other than that which was originally intended. As mentioned above; conducting research into IQ tests was then used to demonstrate the superiority of one racial group over another historically or to mistreat those deemed less intelligent although this was never the purpose of the research.
Ethical Issues In Socially Sensitive Research
Social sensitivity has been covered above somewhat already but simply refers to any psychological research that has wider ethical implications outside of the research context for either participants or the group they represent.
Sieber and Stanley identified 10 types of ethical issues which relate to socially sensitive research. They are as follows:
- Privacy: Skilled investigators may be able to extract more information than the participant wished to give which may be a breach of their privacy or lead to social policies that could lead to the invasion of privacy. e.g. compulsory testing for illnesses
- Confidentiality: If participants confidentiality is breached this may make people less willing to share information in the future compromising the ability to conduct valid future research.
- Valid methodology: Research studies based on poor methodology may lead to invalid findings. Researchers may be aware of these issues however the public or media may not. This may then form the basis of shaping social policy to the detriment of people represented within the study itself.
- Deception: Research may lead to people untrue stereotypes e.g. people may accept women are less good at mathematical abilities based on studies which then affects ones own performance (self-deception).
- Informed consent: Participants involved in studies may not always comprehend what is involved or required of them prior to engaging in the studies.
- Equitable treatment: All participants should be treated in a fair manner (equitable) with resources which are vital to their well-being made available and not made available for one group over another.
- Scientific research: The scientist must balance their duty to conduct the research but also at the same time ensure the participants or other institutions are not harmed.
- Ownership of data: Issues of ownership arise as research is often sponsored by organisations that may restrict the publics accessibility of the findings.
- Values: Values may clash between psychologists with some preferring subjective approaches in their research (idiographic) while others may prefer more scientific approaches (nomothetic). Issues of sensitivity may arise when values of the psychologist conducting the research and recipient also clash.
- Risk/Benefit ratio: When conducting research the risks and costs should be minimised however this isn’t always easy to determine (nor are the benefits).
Possible Questions For Ethical Implications Of research Studies And Theories (Including Socially Sensitive Research)
- What is meant by socially sensitive research?
- Give one example of research that is socially sensitive.
- Discuss the ethical implications of research studies and theory including reference to social sensitivity. (16 marks)
How to reference this information on your website:
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