Cultural bias

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Cultural bias is the phenomenon of interpreting and judging phenomena by standards inherent to one's own culture. The phenomenon is sometimes considered a problem central to social and human sciences, such as economics, psychology, anthropology, and sociology. Some practitioners of the aforementioned fields have attempted to develop methods and theories to compensate for or a culture make assumptions about conventions, including conventions of language, notation, proof and evidence. They are then accused of mistaking these assumptions for laws of logic or nature. Numerous such biases exist, concerning cultural norms for color, location of body parts, mate selection, concepts of justice, linguistic and logical validity, acceptability of evidence, and taboos. Cultural bias extends on many more fields in the globalizing world. Ordinary people may tend to imagine other people as basically the same, not significantly more or less valuable, probably attached emotionally to different groups and different land.


People who read English often assume that it is natural to scan a visual field from left to right and from top to bottom. In the United States it is typical for the "on" position of a toggle switch to be "up", whereas in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand it is "down." Also, in these countries, North is the top of a map, up is usually the larger quantity and better, as well. As another example, Japanese do not place an X in a check-box to indicate acceptance—this indicates refusal.

These conventions are generally useful, as once one is used to light switches behaving a certain way one does not need to learn a per-light switch rule but just a general rule. Unfortunately, when people move between cultures or design something for a different group they often do not attend to which conventions remain and which change.

Linguistic and ethnic groups often do not share these notational assumptions. Notational and operative assumptions can change control systems if the users implement, from a different culture than the designers, funnel interpretations from their original world view. Safety-critical systems, according to Seidner (pp. 5–7), become responses to threats of control. Through the emergence of majority and minority categories in society, cultural biases ensue.

Cultural bias has been observed against African American minorities in standardized SAT tests.[1]

Cultural bias in health care[edit]

Many studies show that minorities receive less adequate and less intensive health care than whites. Such disparities persist even after taking into account health insurance status, age, sex, income, and education. Racial and ethnic disparities in health care access and quality have been extensively documented.[2] Cultural bias in health care are of great concern, with much attention focused on the potential for unconscious (implicit) bias. Disparities in health care does not exist only in differences in access and patient preferences, they exist in the broader historical and contemporary context of social and economic inequality, prejudice, and systematic bias. Researches and works show that ethnic minorities rate the quality of interpersonal care by physicians and within the healthcare system in general more negatively than whites.[3] Moreover, Black, Hispanic, and Asian people are more likely than White people to say that they would receive better medical treatment if they were from different background. Medical personnel treat them with less respect because of their race or broken English.

There is also a relationship between cultural bias and mental health care as well. According to a study found in the Journal of Counseling and Development, diagnoses of clients change when the race between counselor and client do not match. When addressing a minority client, the counselor seemed to diagnose them with a more serious prognosis than with a white client. Also, when discussing a prognosis, many counselors did not take into account cultural factors, which in turn changed their clinical-decision.[4]

Cultural bias in testing[edit]

Cultural bias in testing refers to a situation in which a given test is inappropriate for a certain audience as it does not test the student's actual knowledge of a taught subject or includes details tied to a culture that the student is unfamiliar with. Typically, test biases are based on group membership of the test-takers, such as gender, race and ethnicity. Bias is evident both in the examiner and in testing materials. SAT scores are consistently correlated with race, ethnicity, and class.The test bias controversy and debate has its origins in the observed differences in average IQ scores between various racial groups and ethnic groups in the early 1900s.[5] Studies showed that minorities usually score lower than white students and higher-class students. One of the reason is that higher-class students are able to pay for preparation in order to increase scores. In fact, evidence exists that negative stereotypes of minority groups play an important role in explaining at least some of the differences in test scores— this is called stereotype threat, a particular form of test anxiety.[6] For example, the stereotype that African Americans perform poorly on standardized tests hinders many African Americans' testing ability. Researchers have identified three types of test bias that have an effect on the accuracy of the test result: construct bias, method bias and item bias. Construct Bias happens when the results are significantly different for test-takers from the original culture for which the test was developed and test-takers from a different culture. Method Bias refers to all factors surrounding the administration of the test that may influence the results of the test(length of test, temperature in the testing room, testing environment etc.) Item Bias can occur because of poor use of grammar, choice of cultural phrases and poorly written assessment items.

Culturally biased assumptions[edit]

Assumptions that people tend to make about people from different ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds may bias perception of other cultures. Such assumptions can be just general bias assumptions about people who are not from one’s own background. This is related to prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping, however, cultural biases are different in that these other practices are usually applied and not just thought. Also, cultural biased assumptions can be related to a particular cultural group. There are two different types of biases, according to the Journal of Law Enforcement, and they are subtle and blatant biases.

Subtle biases are found when. An individual may appear to be unbiased and even consider him or herself to be unbiased. However, when an issue becomes personal he or she is likely to have at least slight preferences on the matter.[7] This means although an individual may not seem or realize they have a bias against a certain culture, they could have engrained biases that change their perceptions on certain topics. For example, many Americans accepted Barack Obama as our president despite his race, however a portion of the population becomes apprehensive about a minority moving into a suburban area.

Blatant biases announce an individual’s displeasure with someone or something. These biases are founded on the core social motive of belonging.[8] In order to fit in with the "in" group, individuals must display the same beliefs as the group, no matter who is hurt by the display.[9] This is found in many discriminatory groups, such as the KKK, where initiation is through the blatant hatred of cultures other than their own. Blatant biases are often found in action with hate crimes.

Cultural bias in the classroom[edit]

Cultural bias in teaching can be described as teachers and administrators holding the belief that the dominant or mainstream (presumably European and North American) cultural ways of learning and knowing are superior to ways of learning and knowing that do not reflect such a culture. ([10] A culture gap can develop in some classrooms where a white teacher has a majority of students of color. Cultural bias beliefs sanction as appropriate certain forms of classroom behavior, including the manner in which a student is to perform and learn during class time.

Most elementary and secondary U.S. history textbooks offer a romanticized view of the Europeans’ experience in the United States whereas most of the experiences of Native Americans and/or Africans in these same lands are either misrepresented or underrepresented. What results from these culturally biased beliefs is an in-school cultural socialization process in which ethnically and culturally diverse students are exposed to instructional practices and learning activities that do not reflect their cultural-laden modes of learning and knowing.[11]

Linguistic discrimination[edit]

The unfair treatment of an individual based solely on their use of language. This use of language may include the individual's native language or other characteristics of the person's speech, such as an accent, the size of vocabulary (whether the person uses complex and varied words), and syntax.

Cultural bias in psychology[edit]

Most psychological research is carried out on Americans. Smith and Bond (1998) analysed one textbook, which showed that 66% of the studies were American, 32% European and 2% the rest of the world. Sears (1986) reported that 82% of psychological research studies used undergraduates and 51% were Psychology students. Many psychological theories are hampered by cultural bias, which can ultimately negate their validity. Cultural bias can appear in two forms; ethnocentrism and eurocentrism Ethnocentrism- the belief that ones own cultural group is superior. Ethnocentric individuals judge other groups relative to their own ethnic group or culture, especially with concern for language, behavior, customs, and religion. Eurocentrism- is the practice of viewing the world from a European perspective and with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the preeminence of European culture. Western research is then applied to other cultures to create a supposedly universal view of human behaviour

Research studies can be culturally biased in several ways:

  • The questions that they ask - may only concern issues that are relevant to one culture
  • The participants that they use - May use an unrepresentative sample in terms of cultural groups and sub-cultural groups
  • The tasks that they use - May be unfamiliar to certain cultural groups
  • The culture of the investigator - If an investigator from one cultural group studies another cultural group they may misinterpret their behaviour and answers.
  • The environment that they carry out the research in -Laboratory studies are biased towards western participants as participants from other cultural groups will not be familiar with this kind of environment.
  • The way the findings are used - As psychology is considered a science, findings and conclusions can be thought of as facts and used to hide prejudice and bias.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Mayberry, RM; Mili, F; Ofili, E (2000). Racial and ethnic differences in access to medical care. Med Care Res. 
  3. ^ Rachel, Johnson; Somnath, Saha; Jose, Arbelaez; Mary Catherine, Beach; Lisa, Cooper. [  Missing or empty |title= (help) "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Patient Perceptions of Bias and Cultural Competence in Health Care"]. NCBI. 
  4. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ . 2001.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Conley, Dalton. You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist. p. 515. 
  7. ^ Fiske (2010). ; Sritharan & Gawronsk.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ Fiske (2010). ; Sritharan & Gawronsk.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Fiske (2010). Sritharan & Gawronsk.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)


  • Douglas, Mary (1982). "Cultural Bias," in: Douglas, M.: In the Active Voice, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; 183-254.
  • Seidner, Stanley S.(1982). Ethnicity, Language, and Power from a Psycholinguistic Perspective. Bruxelles: Centre de recherche sur le pluralinguisme.