AQA A-LEVEL PSYCHOLOGY REVISION NOTES: ISSUES & DEBATES
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PSYCHOLOGY AQA A-LEVEL UNIT 3 (7182/3)
GENDER AND CULTURE IN PSYCHOLOGY
- Gender bias including androcentrism and alpha and beta bias
- Cultural bias, including ethnocentrism and cultural relativism
FREE WILL AND DETERMINISM
- Definitions and hard determinism & soft determinism
- The scientific emphasis on causal explanations
- Biological, environmental and psychic determinism
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, environmental (stimulus-response) reductionism and holism
IDIOGRAPHIC AND NOMOTHETIC APPROACHES to psychological investigation
ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS of research studies and theory, including reference to social sensitivity
Psychology emerged in the late 1800’s as an attempt to apply scientific techniques to understanding the mind and behaviour – questions which philosophers had posed for thousands of years through introspective methods and logical reasoning.
Many of the broad themes and issues which emerged through the history of philosophical thought remain central to psychology today in relation to questions such as what is the essential nature of human beings, what forces motivate behaviour, and what methods are most appropriate to study human beings.
Probably the most important and overarching of these questions is the nature-nurture debate – to what extent behaviour is influenced by innate, instinctual, biological factors (nature) as opposed to the forces of culture, society, the environment and learning (nurture). As well as offering fundamentally opposing views on what forces operate on human psychology, the nature-nurture debate has had a profound influence on socio-political and economic questions and policy: for example, gender equality and the role of men and women in society.
The practical applications of psychology are also clear in the question of to what extent humans possess free-will to actively choose how they act and behave or to what extent our behaviour is determined for us by biological or social influences. Criminologists and lawyers, for example, have successfully argued that a criminal’s behaviour is something only partially within their own control and for which, therefore, they cannot and should not face full moral/legal responsibility.
In relation to what methods are appropriate to studying humans, more scientifically-minded psychologists favour a reductionist, nomothetic approach where broad, generalised laws of behaviour are established through studying large groups, whereas the more qualitative psychodynamic and humanistic approaches favour holistic, idiographic methods arguing that people are best understood as a meaningful ‘whole’ and that psychology should focus on what is unique and particular about each individual.
For much of the history of Psychology, the subject was shaped and conducted by white, Western European men. Throughout the 20th C. feminism and increasing racial equality led to critiques of the subject’s sexist and/or racist assumptions. Feminist and cross-cultural psychologists attempt to expose, challenge and address these inequalities.
Lastly, the history of psychological research (particularly non-mainstream research by organisations such as the CIA) has posed a unique question in science: how should scientific research proceed when its subjects are human, and what ethical limits should we set on what type of investigations we are willing to conduct to understand human nature?
GENDER AND CULTURE IN PSYCHOLOGY – UNIVERSALITY AND BIAS. GENDER BIAS INCLUDING ANDROCENTRISM AND ALPHA AND BETA BIAS; CULTURAL BIAS, INCLUDING ETHNOCENTRISM AND CULTURAL RELATIVISM (Psychology A-level revision)
GENDER BIAS INCLUDING ANDROCENTRISM AND ALPHA AND BETA BIAS
At a basic level, Feminism is a political movement which addresses discrimination, prejudice and violence towards women, and how to bring about gender equality.
Feminist Psychology is concerned with exposing how psychological theory and research:
- is largely based on the experiences of and the reference point of men (most psychological researchers have been male).
- is largely based on the behaviour of men (most psychological research participants have been male).
- is gender biased because it either (i) ignores the differences which exist between men and women, or (ii) exaggerates the differences between the genders and judges women’s’ behaviour as a deviation from a male ‘norm’.
- has favoured biological rather than social explanations of gender differences, and thus reinforced the idea that gender differences are inevitable, natural and unchangeable. This reinforces traditional stereotypes: e.g. women being naturally more emotionally unstable than men.
- has, in a variety of ways, labelled women as inferior/abnormal and produced theories which justify and legitimise prejudice, discrimination, lack of equality and violence towards women.
HISTORY OF GENDER BIAS IN PSYCHOLOGY
Early psychological theory often seems to mirror the prejudices of late 19th C. Europe.
- Early (and biased) intelligence tests revealed women as less intelligent than men.
- Freud regarded women as less moral than men (see unit 3 Gender: Psychodynamic explanations).
These psychological theories have practical consequences - for example, early IQ tests were taken as evidence to argue that women should be excluded from certain careers/voting, etc.
TYPES OF BIAS
Androcentrism refers to a male-centred, male-dominated viewpoint of human nature. Androcentrism can take two forms:
- Alpha Bias refers to theories which assume there are real differences between males and females and these differences are exaggerated and women portrayed as inferior to men (see Evolutionary Psychology below).
- Beta Bias refers to theories which minimise or ignore gender differences. These theories may either ignore aspects of women’s lives or be based on studies which only use male only samples yet are applied to ‘people’ as a whole. Beta bias theories produce an androcentric view of human behaviour and ignore the experience of half of the world’s population. (For example, Asch’s research was conducted on men but his findings on conformity are presented as if they are about people in general (men + women.)
GENDER BIAS IN THEORY AND RESEARCH
Although Psychology became less obviously discriminatory during the 20th C. many modern day theories are questioned by Feminists.
- Evolutionary Psychology is criticised for its focus on innate, evolved differences between the genders and its view of women as naturally maternal, domestic, empathic and emotional. Wilson (‘94) argued that the reason why 95% of bank managers, company directors, judges and university professors in the UK are male is because ‘dominance is a personality characteristic determined by male hormones’… Women who do achieve promotion to top management positions ‘may have brains which are masculinised’.
- Erikson’s (‘50) 8 stage theory of lifespan development proposed that women and men pass through different stages when it comes to establishing a firm sense of personal identity. Whereas men establish identity independently in their early twenties, Erikson argued that women delay establishing their sense of personal identity until after they are married. Thus their own identity is only established in relation to the man they have married.
Feminist psychologists have proposed various strategies to overcome/resolve bias.
- Reverse-alpha bias refers to acknowledging the differences between the genders but emphasising the positive value of female traits. For example, showing that women are better at multi-tasking.
- Flexible theories emphasise that although there may be differences between the genders there are also great differences within the genders. There is a focus on expanding what is considered ‘normal’ and ‘appropriate’ behaviours for men and women. Thus there is an attempt to challenge traditional gender stereotypes and redefine what is acceptable for the genders.
CULTURAL BIAS, INCLUDING ETHNOCENTRISM AND CULTURAL RELATIVISM
As an academic discipline, Psychology was developed in Western Europe and North America, predominately by White, middle-class males. The subjects of psychological research studies, upon which psychological theories are based, have tended to be of a similar background. However, Psychology presents itself as a subject capable of understanding universal human behaviour.
Critics of Psychology have argued, therefore, that Psychology may be culturally biased.
There is a natural human tendency to use our own ethnic or cultural group’s norms and values to define what is natural, normal and correct. Psychologists may, therefore, view other cultural group’s differing norms, values and behaviours as abnormal or inferior to their own. This may cause misunderstanding of other cultural behaviours leading psychologists to draw false conclusions (invalid research). At a deeper level it may contribute prejudice and discrimination.
- Alpha Bias is ethnocentric in that is focuses on the differences between cultures with 1 assumed to be superior to the other. Early psychologists such as Freud regarded certain cultures as irrational, illogical and ‘primitive’ compared to Europeans.
- Beta Bias is ethnocentric because it ignores the diversity and difference between cultures. For example, evolutionary psychology generally argues that cultural differences are of little importance compared to universal evolutionarily-determined behaviours.
To combat ethnocentrism social scientists often favour a culturally-relative viewpoint arguing that all cultures and cultural practices are of equal value and that we should try to understand other cultures practices from their own internal logic. Thus, we may understand that although different cultures practices may appear superficially different and alien to us, they serve approximately the same purpose. (For example, praying in a church or sacrificing a goat are both appealing to a god for help).
THE EMIC-ETIC DISTINCTION
- Etics refers to universal aspects of human behaviour: for example, the mother-child attachment bond.
- Emics refers to how etics are expressed by particularly cultures: for example, the etic of gender may be emically expressed differently within different cultures.
When psychologists conduct research in other cultures they may ‘import’ emics from their own social/cultural perspective and thus misunderstand or misjudge others behaviour. Clearly, this will have implications for the validity of theories and research conducted in other cultures.
CULTURAL BIAS IN RESEARCH & CCONSEQUENCES OF BIAS
Race & IQ
With the development of IQ tests in 1904, the US mass-tested the Army. Although White soldiers showed a low average IQ, Black soldiers scored significantly lower. This was taken by some as scientific proof of innate racial differences in IQ. As later critics pointed out, these tests were education dependent (thus favouring better educated Whites) and culturally biased (based on White cultural knowledge), and thus provided an invalid measurement of intelligence. IQ tests were regarded as scientific at the time, however, and therefore serve as a (pseudo) scientific legitimisation of prejudice.
Such thinking was commonplace until the end of WWII when Nazi atrocities revealed the horrors of unrestrained racism. Since that time few have dared suggest innate racial differences in IQ exist. However, in the late 60’s Jensen published an article arguing that educational intervention with Black Americans would have little effect due to an average IQ score 15 points below White Americans. It was later discovered that his claims were based on the research findings of Cyril Burt who had, allegedly, faked his data.
FREE WILL AND DETERMINISM: HARD DETERMINISM AND SOFT DETERMINISM; BIOLOGICAL, ENVIRONMENTAL AND PSYCHIC DETERMINISM. THE SCIENTIFIC EMPHASIS ON CAUSAL EXPLANATIONS (A-level Psychology revision)
This debate centres around the question of to what extent humans possess free-will and behave and think as they choose to, and to what extent human behaviour is determined for us by either
- Internal, innate biological, genetic causes (biological determinism)
- External, learnt, social and environmental causes (environmental determinism)
- a mixture of innate drives (internal) and early experiences (external) (psychic determinism)
All sciences, including Psychology, are concerned with making predictive statements about cause-effect relationships between variables and are, therefore, in the business of exploring what determines certain behaviours to occur. Nearly all psychological approaches can, therefore, be considered determinist. Whereas strict Behaviourism argues that all behaviours are determined and free-will is an illusion (hard determinism) some approaches, such as the Humanistic Approach, make allowance for a degree of free-will (soft determinism).
THE MAJOR APPROACHES
- The Biological Approach argues that behaviour and mental processes are determined by innate, internal structures and processes – the brain, biochemistry and genetics. Thus, personality - for example, schizophrenia is caused by a genetic predisposition which causes changes in the structure of the brain and levels of neurotransmitters.
- Behaviourists propose that all behaviour is determined by previous learning experiences and interaction with our social environment (parents, peers, the media, etc.), and thus human behaviour is entirely a product of its environment. For example, a phobic learns their phobias from associating a stimulus with fear.
- The Psychodynamic Approach (psychic determinism) argues that innate structures (the Id, the unconscious mind, etc.) combine with external factors (early childhood experiences) to determine For example, personality type is influenced by the conflicting demands of the Id (innate) and Super-Ego (learnt).
- The Humanistic Approach reacted against some of the negative implications of psychodynamic and behavioural psychology (e.g. that behaviour is determined). Rogers, for example, argued that humans had the potential for free-will to plan their own actions and shape their own destiny.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE FREE-WILL VS. DETERMINISM DEBATE
The free-will versus determinism debate is of particular importance in relation to behaviours which harm others and/or are criminal. Peter Sutcliffe, who murdered 13 prostitutes from 1976-80, claimed to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and thus had no control over his behaviour (e.g. his mental illness determined his behaviour). The judge ruled against this claim, implying that Sutcliffe should take full moral responsibility for his actions (e.g. he acted from free-will).
At a less dramatic level children suffering from ADHD may have criminal behaviour ‘excused’ by their biological condition.
BIOLOGICAL VS. ENVIRONMENTAL DETERMINISM
Hutchings (‘75) studied over 14,000 adoptions in Denmark. Where neither biological nor adoptive father had a criminal record, the son received a criminal record 10% of the time. This rose to 11% where the adoptive father had a criminal record, 21% where the biological father had one, and 36% where both adoptive and biological father had a criminal record.
This study suggests that criminality can be predisposed by both biological and environmental factors, however most of the children did not go onto commit a crime. It could be argued that although some of the children were biologically and/or environmentally predisposed to criminality they exercised their free-will not to commit a crime.
HARD DETERMINSIM VS SOFT DETERMINISM
The Behaviourist Skinner argued that free-will was an illusion: i.e. we may want to believe we possess free-will to choose how we behave but in fact behaviours are determined for us.
Such a hard-determinist viewpoint has few supporters today
Although animals behave in fairly mechanistic, determined ways, human self-consciousness, self-awareness and higher mental processes enable people to make and which often go against what their biology or environment has pre-disposed them to. Many would argue, therefore, that although our biology and environment predispose us to behave in certain ways we do have a degree of free-will (soft determinism).
THE NATURE-NURTURE DEBATE: THE RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT IN DETERMINING BEHAVIOUR; THE INTERACTIONIST APPROACH (AQA A-level Psychology revision)
The question of to what extent behaviour is the result of innate, internal, genetic, biological factors (nature) or learnt, social, environmental factors (nurture) is central to most topics studied in Psychology.
THE INFLUENCE OF NATURE (HEREDITY)
- The likelihood of a person with unaffected relatives developing schizophrenia is 2-2%, however with affected relatives the likelihood increases: one parent (approx. 25%), two parents (approx. 50%). This implies genetic predisposition.
- Using a sample of 57 twins Gottesman reported a concordance rate (the average % probability of an individual developing the disorder if they have an affected relative) of 42% for monozygotic twins and 9% for dizygotics. All major twin studies consistently report higher concordance rates for MZ’s than DZ’s.
- It is estimated that sexual jealousy accounts for 17% of all UK murders.
As men can never be entirely certain that they are the fathers of their children they are at risk of cuckoldry (i.e. the man might invest his resources in offspring that are not his own. The adaptive functions of sexual jealousy and violence, therefore, would be to deter a female mate from sexual infidelity.
- Buss (‘88) suggested that males have a number of strategies evolved specifically for keeping a mate. Direct guarding refers to protecting and observing mates closely: e.g. keeping women out of public spaces. Negative inducements involve threatening violence against infidelity.
THE INFLUENCE OF NURTURE (ENVIRONMENT)
- Behaviours are acquired through classically conditioned ‘stimulus-response’ associations: e.g. an event in the environment (stimulus) will cause a physiological effect (response) such as fear. For example, repeated negative experiences with dogs (being bitten) may lead to a phobic response.
- Phobias are maintained through operant conditioning. Avoidance of phobic objects is rewarding through negative reinforcement – we avoid the fear we believe they will cause.
THE INTERACTIONIST APPROACH
Few psychologists would argue that behaviours are solely caused by nature or nurture. More modern day explanations examine the interaction between the two: for example, the diathesis-stress model in schizophrenia.
It is very difficult to disentangle the extent to which behaviours are caused by genetics and/or the environment. Also, an individual’s genetic makeup may influence their interaction with their environment.
Plomin identified 3 ways in which genes and environments interact.
- Passive gene-environment correlation. Children are exposed to environments which correlate with their genetic tendencies: i.e. children with high IQs are likely to be raised in households by high IQ parents who provide an intellectually stimulating environment. This will allow the infants IQ to flourish and grow.
- Reactive gene-environment correlations. Children’s’ experiences with their environment will be influenced by their genetic makeup: i.e. infants with an extrovert, relaxed personality will cause friendlier, more rewarding reactions from others. This will reinforce the infant’s personality type.
- Active gene-environment correlations. Children will choose to enter and stay in environments which are consistent with their natural genetic tendencies. For example, a child with a natural ability for music will form friends with other musicians who desire to play and study music. This will reinforce their natural genetic inclination. Similarly, naturally aggressive children may end up in environments which reinforce their natural aggression – gang crime or prison.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE NATURE-NURTURE DEBATE
The nature-nurture debate has widespread implications for policy/law-making in relation to crime, education, the family, etc.
Murray’s ‘The Bell Curve’ (94) argued that IQ is largely genetically inherited and is strongly correlated with that social class status (job, income, etc.): i.e. the wealthy get rich because of natural ability rather than privilege. Equally, the poor are poor because of a natural lack of genetic ability. This suggests that there is little point trying to educate and give opportunities to the working-class as they are genetically inferior in terms of IQ.
HOLISM AND REDUCTIONISM: LEVELS OF EXPLANATION IN PSYCHOLOGY. BIOLOGICAL REDUCTIONISM AND ENVIRONMENTAL (STIMULUS-RESPONSE) REDUCTIONISM (AQA A-level Psychology revision guide)
Reductionism involves the attempt to break complex phenomena down into simpler component parts. This is desirable because breaking complex phenomena down allows better understanding of how these phenomena operate in terms of cause-effect relationships. All scientific explanations of phenomena are reductionist.
Psychological explanations of behaviour can be thought of as operating on different levels of reductionism.
- Highest level: cultural and social explanations of behaviour – e.g. how gender is shaped by learning and cultural expectations.
- Middle level: psychological explanations of behaviour – e.g. internal mental processes such as our thoughts and feelings about our gender.
- Lowest level: biological explanations of behaviour – e.g. how genes and hormones affect male and female behaviour.
Biological psychologists focus on the role of genes, neurology, hormones and neurotransmitters on behaviour. For example, biological explanations of schizophrenia focus on the idea that inherited genes can cause changes in the brain and/or levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine to cause schizophrenic symptoms.
ENVIRONMENTAL (STIMULUS-RESPONSE) REDUCTIONISM
Behaviourist explanations view all behaviour as arising from previously learnt stimulus-response associations. For example, a phobic learnt their phobia through associating their phobic object (stimulus) with fear (response) (classical conditioning). This phobia is further maintained through negative reinforcement: e.g. the phobic is rewarded with positive sensations of relaxation by avoiding their phobic object (operant conditioning).
Some psychologists argue, however, that human behaviour is best understood from studying human behaviour and experience as a meaningful whole, and that reductionist explanations of behaviour ignore the richness, meaningfulness and complexity of human life. For example, a holistic approach to schizophrenia would focus on what meaning the individual attaches to their condition rather than simply viewing it as the result of faulty genes and biochemical imbalance.
HUMANISTIC PSYCHOLOGY & HOLISM
Humanistic psychology argues that people are best and most meaningfully understood as a whole person rather than as a sum of their parts. For example, humanistic psychologists such as Maslow argued that biological and behavioural explanations fail to understand the emotional aspects of our lives: for example, our desire to self-actualise. Many aspects of human life cannot be accounted for through reductionist explanations (for example, the experience of love), and even if reductionist explanations are offered they reduce a complex phenomenon down to an overly simplistic level whose essence becomes meaningless.
FURTHER EVALUATION & COMMENTARY
- Reductionist approaches follow scientific methods aiming at determining cause-effect relationships between variables using tightly controlled experiments. A huge amount of research using such methods has produced a great deal of knowledge and many practical applications. For example, understanding the relationship between dopamine and schizophrenia has enable drugs to be developed which severely reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia and reduce schizophrenics’ distress.
- Biological reductionism applied to mental disorders and drug therapies has been criticised for over-emphasising the biological causes of disorders and failing to take account of social-psychological-environmental causes. For example, viewing depression as simply resulting from low levels of serotonin and treatable with SSRIs fails to take account of the fact that depressed people feel they are depressed for particular reasons, and there may be quite logical reasons why a person is depressed.
- Biological and behavioural reductionism often argue that we can apply findings from research on animals to humans. Critics argue that humans are not just complex animals, rather there are fundamentally different due to their complex thought processes, decision-making abilities and sense of self-awareness in the world. Therefore, reductionist explanations ignore the role of cognitions and emotions on behaviour and tend to treat humans as if they are predictable biological or behavioural robots.
IDIOGRAPHIC AND NOMOTHETIC APPROACHES TO PSYCHOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION (A-level Psychology resources)
Nomothetic approaches involve studying large groups of people to make generalisations about individual and group behaviour, and developing theories based on these findings. This approach follows established scientific practice and is associated with the biological, behavioural and cognitive approaches, and quantitative methods of investigation such as experiments, correlation studies and closed-ended questionnaires.
Idiographic approaches involve studying individuals and then generalising these observations to human behaviour as a whole. This approach does not follow established scientific practice and is associated with the psychodynamic and humanistic approaches, and qualitative methods of investigation such as case studies and interviews.
THE NOMOTHETIC APPROACH
Nomothetic approaches aim to discover general laws of human behaviour which can be used to predict cause-effect relationships concerning how humans are likely to behave. For example, behaviourists such as Skinner tested the role of positive reinforcement in acquiring behaviours. His research was conducted on animals under tightly controlled laboratory experiments, and he argued that findings from these studies revealed general laws of learning which could be generalised to human behaviour as a whole.
Nomothetic approaches can produce 3 ways of classifying behaviour which allow us to predict how a person is likely to behave.
- Classification of people into groups. For example, DSM5 groups symptoms of mental disorders into distinct categories to define and label people as suffering from particular mental disorders.
- Principles of behaviour. As above, Skinner’s research revealed general laws regarding how behaviours were acquired, maintained and extinguished.
- Scales of behaviour. IQ tests, personality type questionnaires, etc. can be used to quantify aspects of ability/personality.
Nomothetic approaches can be criticised for being overly scientific in their emphasis on measuring and predicting human behaviour (e.g. behaviourism). It can be argued that such an approach ‘de-humanises’ people and reduces human experience to a mechanical set of laws when it is, in fact, quite clear that human behaviour is much more individually meaningful and complex that biological or behavioural theories seem to suggest. Therefore, idiographic methods focus on depth of understanding of people subjective experience of their own lives can be argued to produce a more well-rounded and meaningful picture of human psychology.
THE IDIOGRAPHIC APPROACH
Idiographic approaches emphasise that studying individuals in great detail produces a richer, more in depth understanding of behaviour, and that what is unique about each individual is as important as understanding what people are like ‘on average’. For example, Freud’s case study of Little Hans involved a long-term, in depth study of the Oedipus Complex in 1 boy. Freud’s interpretation of the findings of this study were then generalised to males as a whole. The humanistic approaches emphasis on what is ‘unique’ about each individual and the importance of understanding the ‘whole’ person also leads them towards an idiographic approach.
The fact that idiographic approaches focus on individuals and then generalise to the population as a whole can be criticised for being unscientific and failing to acknowledge that behaviours an individual show may not be typical of people in general. Thus, there is a danger that generalising from a sample of one is likely to produce invalid results. Equally, idiographic approaches cannot produce valid laws of human behaviour as controlled experimentation is not conducted and findings cannot be tested for reliability. Idiographic methods such as case studies and interviews can be criticised for being subjective, interpretive and, possibly, highly biased. For example, many argue that Freud interpreted Little Hans’ behaviour to provide evidence for his theory of the Oedipus Complex.
ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS OF RESEARCH STUDIES AND THEORY, INCLUDING REFERENCE TO SOCIAL SENSITIVITY (AQA A-level Psychology resources)
(See also, Unit 2 Research Methods topic on ethical issues)
Apart from treating participants in an ethically acceptable manner (Unit 2: Research Methods), psychologists also have a responsibility for the way in which their research is used.
Sieber (’88) argued that psychological research can have important social consequences. For example, research findings could be used (i) to justify prejudice against certain groups or (ii) shape government policy in potentially harmful ways. Thus certain types of research are socially sensitive.
Hernstein’s book ‘The Bell Curve’ (94) argued that IQ is largely genetically inherited and is strongly correlated with social class status. This suggests that the wealthy are rich because of natural ability and intelligence, and their privilege is, therefore, in many ways earnt and deserved. This implies that the poor are poor because of a natural lack of genetic ability/low IQ. This viewpoint can be regarded as highly offensive as many would argue that poverty is the result of lack of opportunity in education/employment and discrimination.
Sieber outlined a number of aspects of the research process which relate specifically to socially sensitive research.
- The research question. Simply asking certain research questions such as ‘are there racial differences in IQ’ may be damaging to certain sectors of the population as it implies that there might be. Potentially, such questions may appear to provide scientific justification for prejudice.
- Conduct of research and treatment of participants. To what extent and in what circumstances should participants’ confidentiality be kept? For example, if a participant reveals that they have or are planning to commit a crime should the researcher break confidentiality and report it to the authorities?
- The institutional context. Some research funded by private businesses has been accused of manipulating data to produce findings which support the businesses financial aims. For example, a drug company manipulating data in a drug trial to ‘prove’ the effectiveness of their drug and improve sales.
- Interpretation and application of findings. Research findings may be used for unintended purposes. For example, IQ tests have been used to try and ‘prove’ that certain groups in society are inferior to others.
- Valid methodology. Although scientists may be aware that certain research is invalid because it has a poor research design, members of the public are less able to judge whether findings from ‘scientific’ studies should be trusted or not.
- Wider impact. Psychologists tend to think of ethics in terms of how a particular piece of research can be carried out in an ethically acceptable manner. They should also consider how research studies may affect participants’ families, communities and the larger group they are a member of (e.g. their ethnic group).
- Including marginalised groups. Certain groups have generally been under represented as participants in psychological research: for example, ethnic minorities, the disabled, non-heterosexuals. Therefore, research findings may be biased/lacking validity due these groups not being included in research. These groups may not benefit from the potentially positive applications of research done on them.
Although it is important to bear in mind the potentially socially sensitive nature of research, it can also be argued that just because an issue is potentially sensitive it does not mean that we should not investigate it or make public research findings. For example, many regard it as socially sensitive and offensive to argue that homosexuality is innate. However, much research evidence does point to genetic/neurological factors underlying sexuality. Therefore, we should not hide from what is true just because some people find it offensive. If we refuse to carry out research simply because of the fear of offending people, scientific research will portray an invalid (and unscientific/untruthful) view of the human behaviour.