Psychology and Western World Essay

Submitted By GemmaHealy
Words: 1368
Pages: 6

Cultural bias in psychology

“To ignore these realities, or to trivialize them, is to contribute to a science while wearing blinders” (Lonner & Malpass, 1994).

A typical psychology text book contains hundreds of terms and theories to help explain human behaviour. Most of these texts appear to suggest that all of these fantastic concepts are universally applicable; we are all basically the same, and that is that. This is a very dangerous assumption to make. It has been estimated that over 90 percent of all psychologists who have ever lived are from the Western world (Lonner & Malpass, 1994). The majority of theories in counselling psychology have evolved primarily from the experiences of White, upper class men, conducting research on White, upper-class clients (Lee & Richardson, 1991). This article shall focus on the cultural biases that are clearly visible in much of the research conducted in psychology, with particular emphasis on the controversy over the resultant definitions and diagnosis of mental illnesses.

Culture can be defined as the “transmitted and created content and patterns of values, ideas and other symbolic-meaningful systems as factors in the shaping of human behaviour and the artefacts produced through behaviour” (Kroeber and Parsons, 1958, p583).

Psychologists and other social scientists have long been interested in the influence of culture on psychopathology, or abnormal behaviours.

We have been provided with the basic components and attributes of what constitutes a mentally healthy and ‘normal’ individual. Self-sufficiency, independence, competitiveness, confidence and an internal locus of control are all characteristics that are required to be deemed ‘mentally stable’ (Pederson, 1987). These are the stereotypical characteristics of [typically American, but can be generalised to those living in a Western Society] White, middle-class men (Ritchie, 1994). Individuals who exhibit connectedness, stability, cooperation and an external locus of control are therefore often seen as less psychologically healthy, even though these characteristics are viewed as positive and virtuous attributes in other cultures (Ritchie, 1994). Do definitions of normality and abnormality vary across cultures, or are there universal standards of normality?

Correct definitions of mental and emotional health are critical in psychology, as they guide counsellors and psychologists in the diagnosis, support and assistance of patients. If the definitions are narrow and biased in favour of particular cultural or social groups, it could lead to wrong diagnoses and unmerited assumptions about the mental health of certain individuals or groups (Richie, 1994). Pederson (1987) was passionate about the problems these assumptions cause, in fact, he claimed that “the consequences of these assumptions are institutionalized racism, ageism, sexism and cultural bias” (p16).

A plethora of research has discovered differences in the levels of mental illnesses present in people from varying ethnic and racial backgrounds For example, Hispanics have been diagnosed with schizophrenia 1.5 times more frequently than Whites, and African Americans are more likely than Whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, substance abuse, and/or dementia (DelBello, Lopez-Larson, Soutullo, & Strakowski, 2001). The essential question raised from these results is: are these differences in diagnostic rates due to cultural diversities, or the misdiagnosis from psychologists and counsellors due to their own personal biases? There have been similar concerns raised about cultural biases inherent in IQ testing, with the generalisations that Asian children have, on average, higher IQs than white children, and African children have, on average, lower IQs. Research in this field has indicated that there might be cultural implications inherent in the IQ test themselves, which lead to this perceived difference (Scarr, 1981). It is highly likely that such cultural