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Study notes

Issues & Debates: Evaluating Gender Bias

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, OCR

Unfortunately, issues of gender bias often go unchallenged. For example, Darwin’s established theory of sexual selection suggests that women are selective (choosy) in terms of mate selection. These views have only recently been challenged by DNA evidence suggesting that women are equally as competitive as men when the need arises.

By developing a greater understanding of gender bias, psychologists have put forward a number of solutions. For example, some psychologists attempt to develop theories that emphasise the importance or value of women. Cornwell et al. (2013) noted that females are better at learning, as they are more attentive and organised, thus emphasising both the value and the positive attributes of women. As a result, this type of research helps to reduce or challenge gender stereotypes which is important in reducing gender bias.

Another way to reduce gender bias is to take a feminist approach which attempts to restore the imbalance in both psychological theories and research. For example, feminist psychology accepts that there are biological differences between males and females: Research by Eagly (1978) claims that female are less effective leaders than males. However, the purpose of Eagly’s claim is to help researchers develop training programmes aimed at reducing the lack of female leaders in the real-world.

Worrell (1992) also suggested a number of research criteria that are particularly important to ensure non-gender biased research investigations: using alternative methods of inquiry to explore the personal lives of women; considering women in the natural settings in which they function; collaborating with research participants to explore personally relevant variables and studying diverse samples (women who vary by age, socio-economic class, partner preference, minority or ethnic group).

As society has changed and females have progressed further in academic disciplines such as psychology, there have been changes, both in the research methodology used and to the earlier theories. As previously explained, Carol Gilligan (a student of Kohlberg’s) proposed that women have a different sense of moral understanding to men and compiled her own stage theory of moral understanding. Her approach showed that men and women are different, but neither kind of moral reasoning (justice focus or care focus) is considered to be better, they are just different.

It is also important to remember that sometimes the gender bias can work against males as well as females, as sometimes alpha bias theories heighten the value of women. For example, Chodorow (1978) viewed women as more relational and caring. Another example is that women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and given treatment than males. This may be because woman are more likely to suffer from depression, or it could be that the diagnostic system may be biased towards finding depression among women. The expectation for males should be able to ‘pull themselves together’ is viewed as a masculine trait which may highlight an issue with the psychological diagnostic systems.

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