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Philosophy & Politics Science

On Androcentrism in Psychology Research

Yoder and Kahn’s research analysis thoroughly explored the concepts associated with differences in gender as we understand them in light of modern science. Their analysis acknowledges the physical differences between men and women (I found the relationship mentioned between even Soviet Russia and their inability to eradicate gender inequality to be interesting). (Yoder) Furthermore, Witkin’s et al. interpreted their research on visual-spacial perception in a manner that would only perpetuate gender roles in society- their research on the characterization of field dependence  and independence “fit neatly with the gender stereotypes of post-World War II America,” and was used to justify exclusion from the workforce and after the war. Eventually we’ve moved towards a less androcentric viewpoint on gender differences between field dependence and independence, focusing more on specific skills, and we now understand that such differences in variability in spacial abilities don’t exist across other countries. Ultimately, Linn and Petersen (1985) concluded that there are no reliable gender differences in performance of spatial visualization tasks, and their research was doubly validated by Voyer, Voyer, and Bryden ten years later in a meta-analysis.

I think Yoder and Kahn’s analysis of Diane Halpern’s research regarding cognitive psychology differences between genders to be a more nuanced comprehension of gender differences than the research emphasizing physical neurobiological differences and the way they manifest (or don’t) as behavior differences. In Halpern’s analysis of cognitive differences between genders (2000), she argues that “it seems likely that our abilities are influenced by age, birth order, cultural background, socioeconomic status, sex role orientation, learning histories, and so forth….” This digests more comfortably with me as an acceptable perspective on gender differences- there are an infinite number of factors that play into gender differences and the research that can and cannot be done, and I believe adopting a perspective that is more encompassing of complex sociopolitical and identity issues would be a more scientific approach to the subject. 

Yoder and Kahn concluded that cognitive performance does not and cannot occur nor be tested in a cultural vacuum, and that there is an undeniable impact of culture and social environment on cognition. An example is given of villagers in Uganda thinking of intelligence as manifested by being slow and careful (otherwise deliberate) while westernized groups in Uganda associate intelligence with speed. 

Cordelia Fine concluded in her lecture about gender differences in psychology that for the majority of psychological characteristics, an individual’s gender isn’t necessarily indicative of their masculinity or femininity. (Fine) The contingency principle concludes that cognitive gender differences within one population and one subject cannot be compared with another due to cultural and environmental differences. Fine also concluded in her analysis of psychology research that gender and masculinity and femininity exist on a spectrum- and that possession of one masculine or feminine traits are not indicative of an entirely masculine or feminine personality. In addition, gender is multidimensional, and masculine or feminine characteristics are poorly correlated with themselves. She also concludes that gender socialization experiences are captured within research in the field and cannot be disentangled from quantifiable gender differences research. In essence, the politics of psychology are important to understanding research on gender differences. 

Honestly, I think the reason there’s so much research focused on gender differences and sex differences is because historically, and contemporarily, psychology research has been largely androcentric. I believe the patriarchy perpetuates oppression against women through research with androcentric bias and shallow conclusions about how men are somehow better than women at valued tasks and skills, and women are only better than men at socialized gender role related topics. Toxic masculinity is fragile- it has to prove itself through twisted means and maintains itself in society through this kind of research that perpetuates gender roles and reaffirms binary, gender-associated traits in order to sustain oppressive social institutions. To clarify, I also acknowledge that issues like toxic masculinity affect men (male suicide rates). I only mention this because my dialog tends to not focus on that; I purposely don’t because it detracts from an important topic that is suppressed throughout our society, which is an issue that men don’t usually suffer from (basically, women don’t publish research to try to deliberately oppress men, women don’t interject/object when men speak out against institutions that affect them, women don’t actively possess political and social power over men, and men are already researching how these issues affect other men). Hopefully it wasn’t even necessary to touch on that. 

I do think of psychological theories of gender differences as being fluid, interacting concepts. I think in an evolutionary context, biological sex differences did make a difference in gender psychology over time, perhaps neurobiologically (exposure to different experiences for generations and generations), but largely sociologically. I think sociobiology theory of adaptive and maladaptive behaviors can function as a construtionist concept with the introduction of modern research, technology, medicine, and engineering). Essentially, I think as more women are empowered to combat oppression in our social and political institutions, and more men work to actively dismantle the systems they directly or indirectly benefit from, maladaptive behaviors (such as forcing your partner to stay home and raise kids) will be eradicated. This is because we have the technology and infrastructure to bypass these limitations based on sex differences- they’re called day-cares. The issue now is not the presence or absence of these institutions, but the socialized and institutionalized inequalities that deny access to these institutions to women (I’m thinking economically here). As we combat unequal access to institutions that can work to dismantle socialized gender roles, maladaptive behaviors such as stated above will become eradicated because nobody will stay home all day with the kids if they’re not forced to, and aren’t willing to. 

In Lips’s “Group Comparisons” section, she states that “it should be immediately obvious that such comparisons (regarding women vs men, middle-class women vs lower-class women, postmenopausal vs premenopausal) are fraught with difficulty. (Lips) This statement only furthers the notion of purposeful misinterpretation and framing of research questions and conclusions in order to perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes in psychology as consequences of androcentrism in the discipline. The research cited earlier further extrapolates this concept as it describes gender differences in psychology as being nonexistent outside of social, and cultural, context. The researchers propose idiographic and nomothetic approaches to research as methods of significantly realigning the discipline and further research with scientific principles of empirical analysis and appropriately framed, nuanced questions and conclusions regarding gender differences. The idiographic approach focuses on careful, in-depth case studies of individuals’ experiences, while the noothetic approach combines the responses of similar individuals in order to make summary statements about groups and/or compare groups. Both approaches are valuable for the detail they provide and their ability to discern patterns and evaluate beliefs and stereotypes about different specific groups. 

Prior to learning of androcentrism in psychology, I was unaware, although suspicious, of the lack of gender differences in psychology outside of a social and cultural context. This idea really gives me confidence that with deliberate redirection of cultural and social gender norms, we can accelerate research that dismantles the principles that gender roles are based upon. By this, I mean in a sort of domino effect, as research emerges disproving outdated androcentric theories of gender differences, science will be forced to acknowledge and further investigate the androcentrism in research, which will lead to more social change. It’s not that simple, but just like research on gender differences, neither is the politics.

Sources:

Lips, H. M. (2017). A new psychology of women: gender, culture and ethnicity (Fourth Edition). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press Inc.

Yoder, J. D., & Kahn, A. S. (2003). Making Gender Comparisons More Meaningful: A Call for More Attention to Social Context. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 27(4), 281–290. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-6402.00108

Fine, Cordelia. Questioning the Science of Gender Difference: A New Perspective. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEX9Usqdurs.

Categories
Economics Philosophy & Politics Science

Piaget, Vygotsky, and Political Economy

Piaget and Vygotskys’ theories of cognitive development are somewhat contrasting, and can be compared to one-another endlessly using anecdotal evidence from our lives. Piaget’s model implies that cognitive development occurs parallel to neurobiological development and the child’s interaction with their environment. It’s relatively individualistic by nature of its focus on how the individual’s sensory processing of information from their environment effectively leads to formulation of ideas, and furthers cognitive development (subconsciously attempting to master their environment). The concepts proposed by Vygotsky differ from Piaget conversely; he proposes that through the zone of proximal development and by use of scaffolding, the individual develops cognitively through social interaction. Vygotsky concludes that social interaction is crucial to the process of learning and cognitive development; I’d make the comparison between the two theories that one seems to be individualistic (Pieget), while the other, relativistic (Vygotsky) in nature.

After making this mental connection, I decided to do some digging. I found that Piaget was born in the turn of the 20th century in capitalist Switzerland, while Vygotsky was a Soviet psychologist, educated at the Imperial Moscow University. It’s fascinating to me that two psychologists who likely harbor some sentiment for ideologically opposing political-economic theories (Communism, which is culturally relativistic, and Capitalism, which is culturally individualistic) would propose two conversed theories of cognitive development. Not to discount the validity of the theories- but I truly wonder if this is evidence of human nature being contingent on the material conditions of our reality, rather than some inherited, implicit biases towards thoughts or behaviors. What do you think? Did the fact that the material conditions of Piaget and Vygotskys’ environments differed influenced their psychology? If so, doesn’t that necessarily imply that Piaget was right? Would this information discount Vygotsky’s theory?