Cultural Bias in Psychology

Updated on July 18, 2019
Angel Harper profile image

Angel is currently studying for her A-levels (English, Sociology and Psychology) in the hopes to go to university next year.

Ethnocentrism can lead to cultural bias as the use of theories or societal values from one culture are used to make judgements about others cultures. A white Western culture is pushed onto all cultures which can create negative stereotypes as individuals who aren't white Westerners will not share the same norms and values so may perform worse in experiments.

In contrast, cultural relativism is the idea that all cultures are unique and worthy of respect and understanding. Although this approach appears to be better, it can still lead to alpha and beta bias.

Holi, a Hindu spring festival originating from India
Holi, a Hindu spring festival originating from India | Source

Alpha Bias

Alpha bias is when theories assume there are significant differences between cultures. Differences are often exaggerated and based on assumptions, it can lead to stereotypes of certain cultures and can reinforce or even legitimise racism. Often alpha bias provides an unbalanced option where the dominant white Western way of life is portrayed as better than others.

An example of alpha bias would be assumptions about individualist and collectivist cultures. Collectivists value group norms more than individualists (who focus on the self) so it is largely believed that they would have higher rates of conformity. Smith and Bond suggested that there may be conformity differences between individualist and collectivist cultures, and their findings of a conformity experiment supported this. However, Takano and Osaka's analysis of 15 studies did not support this common belief. They found that 14 out of 15 studies did not suggests that collectivist cultures had higher levels of conformity. This example shows us how alpha bias can lead to incorrect assumptions about different cultures.

Beta Bias

Beta bias is when differences between cultures are minimalized or ignored completely - researchers will apply the same theories or methods to all cultures. This can also result in negative stereotypes and racism as individuals who aren't from the dominant culture may perform more poorly so will appear to be 'not as good' as the Western culture.

For example, just before world war one broke out, the US Army used an IQ test to determine intelligence. However, the test was based solely on white American norms and values. Intelligence is defined differently in other cultures. As a result, non-western participants did not perform as well as the white Americans, making them seem to be less intelligent. This reinforced racism in America and created negative stereotypes about intelligence because cultural differences were not taken into account.

Sporting your country football team is an example of ethnocentrism
Sporting your country football team is an example of ethnocentrism | Source

Cultural Bias in Psychology

For years psychology has been ethnocentric, with the majority of researchers being white American men. This makes theories unrepresentative of minorities as researchers cannot apply one rule for a variety of different people. Smith and Bond found that 66% of studies in a European textbook were American. This means that most cultures are underrepresented in psychological research. Cultural bias is further identified by Sears who reported that 825 of studies used undergraduates as participants and 51% of them were psychology students. This means that the majority of the participants who we are basing explanations of all human behaviour off of are white, middle-class men. Research cannot provide accurate information about human behaviour if cultural bias prevents the understanding of all groups of people.


Countering Cultural Bias in Psychology

Countering ethnocentrism has become easier as a result of globalisation. Increased travel in the past 50 years has encouraged indigenous psychologies - where theories accommodate cultural differences. Afrocentrism, for instance, proposes that all black people have roots in Africa so theories and research methods used must include the cultural norms and values that apply to those individuals. Afrocentrism counters the belief that European values apply to all people. Indigenous psychologies provide research methods and explanations of behaviour for different cultures which can combat cultural bias.

Another way to counter ethnocentrism is by using an emic or etic approach. An 'emic' approach emphasises the uniqueness of cultures but such studies are only appropriate for the researched culture. The 'emic' approach, on the other hand, looks for universal behaviours but uses indigenous researchers to prevent cultural bias. Having a variety of researchers from different backgrounds who have an understanding of certain cultures allows them to develop theories that can apply to all humans whilst taking into account differences. David Buss used this method - he collected data from people in 37 different cultures by using local researchers. This method allows for a universal generalisation that more accurately represents a variety of cultures.


To Conclude

Alpha bias is when differences between cultures are exaggerated, with European norms and values being portrayed as superior.

Beta bias is when differences are ignored which can lead to an inaccurate perception of other cultures.

Developments in technology and attitudes towards ethnic groups have led to the creation of indigenous psychologies which aims to counter ethnocentricism.

Alpha and beta bias are also discussed in my article about gender bias:


Cardwell, M., Flanagan, C. (2016) Psychology A level The Complete Companion Student Book fourth edition. Published by Oxford University Press, United Kingdom.

© 2018 Angel Harper


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      22 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Angel, thanks for dropping in. We should learn the cultural norms of others and respect them. This in some cases like a college or university makes the learning environment truely international. There should the be no ethnic bias asis presently experienced. Thank you for a useful , educative, andinformative story.

    • Angel Harper profile imageAUTHOR

      Angel Harper 

      22 months ago

      Miebakagh Fiberesima, yes I think we can all learn from different cultures to make a better world. : )

    • Angel Harper profile imageAUTHOR

      Angel Harper 

      22 months ago

      Mary Norton, hopefully one day soon cultural bias will no longer exist!

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      22 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hey, Angel, keep the good work on at this stage and thereafter. I agreed with Mary Norton, that all this 'bias'will later become a zero and its already beginning to happen.

      At present as global view expand, I take to like Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Asians cultures. Food, drinking, clothing, marrige are all cultures. To me, Japanese, or Indian cultures in marriage or food and nutritions is more superior to the American or English man culture. American or the English man cultural norms in marriage is not stable like that of the third world countries. There's is significantly polluted. Increasing divource is alarming,for example. What is the root of all these? It is because American marriges are "patches" of other cultures. Thank you.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      22 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      You are right that most of the time we use Western cultural norms as the referene point. It is changing slowly until one day it is no more.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)