aqa  Gender bias including androcentrism and alpha and beta bias. Universality and bias.

Bias, be it in the reporting, conducting of use of research which favours one gender over the other; or makes one gender look inferior to the other.  Usually in Psychology it is women who are biased against, perhaps due to the overrepresentation and over-expectance of men in research and the lack of balanced samples (too few women.)


The majority of gender biases in psychology suggests that women are biased against and men are the dominant and superior force in the conducting, sampling and reporting of research.  Women are often stereotyped due to male research being generalised to apply to them and samples often lack women, perhaps due to the male researcher or the male researcher’s interpretation of his research.  Either way, evidence suggests that women are often marginalised in psychological research which is predominantly male orientated.

Issues of ‘beta bias’ often occur in psychology.  This means that differences, if they do exist, are underestimated and downplayed.  Often, as the research is done on males this means that women are categorised similar to males which can be unfair and inaccurate due to the multitude of differences between the two.  Neither Asch (conformity) nor Piliavin (‘good samaritanism’) used female confederates, making it difficult to decide if women would be more likely to conform / receive help, and instead used exclusively males in their research.  Asch even refused to allow females to be participants in his study, seriously damaging the generalisability across men and women.  Kohlberg’s original research into moral development has often been criticised for two reasons; firstly, he didn’t ask any women the morality questions; and secondly, as Gilligan points out, the questions were focused on ‘justice’ – a topic which was believed to be more applicable to males than females, empathically.  Gilligan found that when questioned on the morality of care, women were found to be quite highly morally developed.  It was decided that whilst both sexes have ostensibly high moral development, they are focused in separate areas and therefore the original (Kohlberg) research was andocentric – i.e. it emphasised males more than females – and could not be accurately used when describing the morality of women.

Alternately, ‘alpha bias’ exaggerated the differences between the genders.  Freud was the most prominent exponent of ‘alpha bias,’ clearly marginalising and derogating women as inferior citizens.  He stated that “in no way should men and women be seen as equals” and punctuated this remark by suggesting that a woman’s morality is stifled by her lack of experiencing and resolving the Oedipus complex (simply because she has no penis.  Freud made it clear, perhaps because of cultural reasons – men were certainly seen as superior to women in the early 20th century – that women were not as morally developed as men.  This has undoubtedly led to prejudices in modern research (i.e. Kohlberg) and influenced, especially due to the importance of Freud in psychology, the way we perceive women, leading to gender bias even now.

1950s “Good Housewife Guide”


Women are generally underrepresented in psychology (in terms of research) as most predominant psychologists have been male.  When females do undertake well-regarded research, questions are asked as to the motives behind it.  For example, Langer and Rodin’s research on giving control has been noted on choosing a care home for its participants.  Arguably, it was males who were undertaking the study, a different sample would’ve been used (i.e. prison.)  In fact, when Zimbardo researched into giving unprecedented levels of control to people he used a prison in his much publicised study.  Ostensibly, the differences in sample indicate a gender bias in how men and women interpret useful samples and how they decide on where would be the most useful place to undertake research.  Freud (male) did lots of research with women as the basis for his psychosexual development books and often labelled women such as Anna O and Dora as being promiscuous and inciting sexual activity despite their young age, clearly showing bias against the neutrality of femininity.  Arguably, if Freud was female, she would’ve responded more empathically and with less outlandish explanations because she would’ve found it easier to relate to the female.

Methodologically, it is presumed that the laboratory environment is a very male dominated one and therefore not suitable for research using females due to their association with men.  The general image of a lab professor is of a male one, and stereotypically it is presumed that the majority of psychologists are, therefore, male.  This is biased and possibly untrue.  Milgram, in his original ‘obedience’ study used a male-only sample; perhaps this was because he thought that women, due to their ‘emotional’ stereotyping, would be more emotionally unstable than men and not be able to cope with the pressures the study dictated.  Actually, seeing as though three of the men collapsed – coupled with Sheridan and King’s subsequent research which suggested that women were actually more ruthless than men – Milgram’s original prediction (if indeed he had one) was untrue.  Undoubtedly, the female status outside of psychology (often as a housewife) influences researches when selecting their sample, as they take into account what the media / society dictates the roles of women are.  Whilst in recent years the imbalance has equalled out more (i.e. the prominence of Elizabeth Loftus) there is still an underlying expectation of women which may be wholly inaccurate.


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