Does psychology only tell us how white Americans and Europeans behave?

Within traditional psychology, it seems that both researchers and participants tend to come from within the United States of America and Europe. Despite this a lot of the psychology drawn from this particular cultural background  is presented as a universal description of human behaviour. So, this poses the question of whether psychology only tell us how Americans and Europeans behave? Are the majority of psychological findings culturally biased?

Hare-Mustin and Maracek (1998) suggested that you should take into consideration the extent to which any psychological research is biased before concluding whether there are cultural differences. It is only after this when the ‘truth’ can be untangled from the way the research study has found it.

Alpha bias and beta bias are the two different ways in which Hare-Mustin and Maracek proposed that theories could be biased. Alpha bias is the way in which real significant differences are assumed between cultural groups.  On the other hand, beta bias refers to the way in which any differences between cultures are ignored or disregarded. One example of beta bias within psychology is the use of IQ tests in order to compare the intelligence of different groups of people. These tests are created by Western psychologists and assume their view of intelligence can be applicable equally to every culture, therefore in certain situations, when IQ tests are carried out on non-Western cultural groups, their result may be affected producing invalid data. This therefore supports the argument that psychology only tells us about the behaviour of Americans and Europeans.

The majority of psychological research studies use American participants, this can be seen from the following study. Smith and Bond (1998) carried out an analysis on a British textbook and discovered that 66% of the studies were American, 32% European and 2% came from elsewhere. Furthermore, another research study finding showed that 82% of research studies used undergraduate students as their participants within a psychology study and out of them 51% of them were psychology students themselves (Sears, 1986).  Both of these studies suggest that a vast amount of findings within psychology are based on young, academic adults (often male, too) which results in them being largely unrepresentative, especially within different cultures.

So, it seems that research studies are being constantly carried out within various fields of psychology, yet the majority of these findings are culturally biased and therefore it could be argued that they should not be used universally in order to describe and explore human behaviour.




Thanks for reading, feel free to comment!

Nathalie :]


About Nathalie Lauren Joyce

19. First year @ Bangor University. Psychology Blogger.

8 responses to “Does psychology only tell us how white Americans and Europeans behave?

  1. litsasourla

    Very good blog. i also agree with Alex in that we as psychology students will find it a lot easier to figure out what we have to do to help the experimenter get the best results needed for their research. It is true that cultural variations exist and these are not always taken into account. For example, in the ‘Western world’ the ideal body image is slim, hourglass figure for women and ‘buff’, built for men however in many third world countries, a woman is preferred with more fat and curves because it is a sign of nurishment and they would be better suited for having healthier children with more vitamins and minerals given from her body. A slim woman would be considered unhealthy and malnourished. Another interesting concept is that of diagnosing schizophrenia. It is known that many african caribbean men in the UK are diagnosed with the disorder but recent research has revealed that this may just be because what we find acceptable in our society isnt the same as what is acceptable in the african caribbean society. So their behaviour may be viewed as normal where they come from. It is important that this is considered in research because it can lead to bigger problems such as being labelled as schizophrenic when your perfectly sane.

  2. Gideon Martin

    I found your blog very interesting and thought the subject you presented was very informative, I think that it an interesting point you raised, that the majority of research is carried with students, this surely must affect the data in some ways. I also agree that cultural differences have to be taken into account when studies are carried out and that more research should be undertaken with a wider ethnic range. I thought the issues and questions you raised were very relevant and is something that needs to be looked into further by psychologists.

  3. Alexxxxxxxxxx!

    The topic choice for your blog is extremely relevant considering we’re all taking part in experiments and it just reinforces your point that a lot of research comes from undergraduates and psychology students themselves. Psychology students in studies have been known to produce demand characteristics due to the fact that they’re knowledgeable in how research is carried out and sometimes try and second guess the aims of the study if they are hidden, which affects how they perform, also making studies invalid. The few studies that do explore other cultures show huge differences in the way children are raised, which proves that cultural differences are enormous and we must take this into consideration before generalising, for example, Margaret Mead’s study into 3 tribes of New Guinea showed children being raised by males instead of females, while the females hunted, which just emphasises the difference in societies. Really good blog, thanks

  4. To begin, the title is one of great appeal, and evidently of relevance to many, if not majority of the students present within our class. Within your clarification of alpha/beta biases, and the integration of the study by Hare-Mustin and Maracek highlights the issue in a fufilling manner. As I concur with your post
    extensively, I must post a study to introduce another facade concerning a beloved contributer to psychology to allow critical evaluation from another perspective, Freud; his theory of the Oedipus complex. Considering during the time of it’s development, he lived within a society that shunned and segregated anyone who ‘had the audacity’ to express themselves within, generally, an emotional or sexual manner. Within Vienna, divorce was essentially unknown of, and thus families strictly adhered to the conventional family structure: mother, father, daughter/son, etc. Subsequently, his theory was oblivious to the concept of divorce (prevalent/growing within America at the time), or the tribes present at the time (still occuring, cannot recall name at the moment) that ‘share’ children, thus with a child potentially having 5 or 6 mothers and fathers at a time. In relation to your study, I feel a theory of such significance and appeal to the spectating world has been nullified over time, and thus deterring many from the study of psychology itself. Vast efforts, indeed, should be made to integrate many more various cultures in order to form results that may gradually progress as an application to humanity (pertinent to the theory). Clarity and a firm tone is present within your entry (as well as your previous), and places one at ease with a topic of such ample significance.

    Sincerely, thank you!


  5. This is a really good blog. I like the structure that you have used as it makes the whole thing easier to both read and understand. It’s clearly evident that you’ve done a lot of extra research around this topic and the studies that you have referenced are really good examples of the posed question. I also like the way in which you’ve brought everything down to a really concise conclusion. Look forward to the next one!

  6. psue96

    Excellent blog. A very good question, excellent points and a reference in there. I found this a very good read, and educational too. This is a very important issue with psychological studies. The only real way to overcome cultural bias is to explore as many cultures as possible. A good example is Paul Eckman, who travelled around the world, exploring both large western cultures, and also small pigmy tribes in south america to “prove” that facial expressions are universal. Though this is obviously not feesable for all studies.

    – JC

  7. That was amazing, i thought that the title was very specific and answered a point that i believe is very often overlooked. The evidence that was given was very specific also, as it didn’t just focus on the culture bias within psychology but also the bias of age, education level, and gender. By referencing several different people it showed that you had researched the topic and looked for statistics to strengthen your argument. Thank you for the insight

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