Gender Bias in Psychology

Bias may be an unavoidable part of the research process, in that all researchers are likely to be influenced by things like the social and historical context in which they live, their own education and training. However, in Psychology we try to find ‘facts’ about human behaviour which are objective and free from bias. Gender bias therefore refers to the notion that research or theory may offer a view that does not justifiably represent the experience and/or behaviour of men or women individually or specifically. There are two main forms of such:

· Beta-Bias: Ignores/underestimates the differences between men and women. Often occurs when female participants are not included as part of the research process and then it is assumed that the findings apply equally to both sexes. An example of this is Taylor et al (2000), who has pointed out that early research into the ‘fight or flight’ response focused mainly on male participants, later research that has adopted a more female focus has highlighted that females react in a different way to stress, adopting a more ‘tend and befriend’ approach.

· Alpha-Bias: An exaggeration/over-estimation of the differences between the sexes.It is generally understood that there are some differences between males and females however, Psychology has sometimes suggested differences that may not actually be there. For example, research has suggested that males appear to be less sensitive than females however, males are more physically active/aggressive – a suggestion drawn from bias research conducted in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Gender bias research may; create misleading assumptions about female behaviour; fail to challenge negative stereotypes; and validate discriminatory practice. For example, Dalton (1964) controversially suggested that during this part of the menstrual cycle, women are more likely to have accidents, carry out crimes, commit suicide and to have reduced scores in IQ tests.

Why could such findings have a negative impact on females? Such research findings paint women to be volatile individuals who are victims of their own biological makeup holding little control/free will over their own behaviour. Research findings could also cause women to be discriminated against in the workplace (for instance), employers who believe women are more likely to have accidents/reduced IQ scores could favour male applicants for jobs assuming that they would be a more competent member of the workforce.

Gender bias research may; create misleading assumptions about male behaviour, fail to challenge negative stereotypes and validate discriminatory practice. For instance, research has suggested that males appear to be less sensitive than females and display more aggressive tendencies.

Why could such findings have a negative impact on males? Again, it could be that males may (because of such research) find themselves being discriminated against during the application process for certain jobs. Holding the idea that males are ‘less sensitive’ may make them less favourable candidates for certain jobs (e.g., teachers, counsellors, therapists etc…) where sensitivity is seen as an important trait for the role. Furthermore, it might be that research suggesting males are aggressive could cause a bias judgement –assuming the male was the instigator of a violent act due to them holding a biological trait for aggression.

Bias in Research Methods: The way in which research is carried out can also create gender bias assumptions (that do not really exist). For example, male researchers tend to be nice, friendly, and more welcoming the female participants rather than male participants. This often leads to female participants performing better than male participants in certain research tasks.

Why could this lead to biased conclusions being drawn? Such practice indicates investigator effects and would therefore lead to bias results being obtained. Due to the presence of the EV, investigator effect, the IV would not be the sole variable affecting the DV and therefore a cause-and-effect relationship would be unable to be established and internal validity would be low.

Sexism within the Research Process: A lack of women appointed at a senior level means that female concerns may not be reflected in the research questions asked.

Why is this a problem when it comes to further developing our understanding of human behaviour? This is a problem as it may mean that research focuses on male topics of interest and therefore, topics associated with female interest may not be conducted in abundance.

Many individuals argue that the lack of females in the ‘higher’ research roles within psychology is since women are usually seen to lack leadership qualities. Eagly (1978) acknowledged that women may be ineffective leaders compared to men but argued that such knowledge should be used to remove gender bias and redress the imbalances in theory and research in psychology.

Monica Abrantes, 12R7