Essay: Psychological and Socio-Cultural Theories

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[. . .] Greater ERN and P200 activity demonstrate a stronger bias, whereas those with lesser N200 activity demonstrate it (Payne 2001). The key to reducing the bias is to either change the automatic impulse or maximize control. For example, officers with the most firearms training demonstrate the least effects of the bias. Using cognitive strategies to reduce implicit racial associations may also be useful.

But there are several questions that come to mind based on the Payne (2006) review. First, in his original study Payne used 31 college students, 24 women and seven men, all white. The targets were all male faces. So what is he really measuring in that study, racial bias of white women against black males? Payne's findings cannot be generalized at all. There are studies detecting strong in-group and out-group biases in African-Americans (e.g., see Hewstone, Rubin, and Willis 2002). If African-Americans demonstrate the same weapon bias as white females, how would this change the theory? Just what do implicit measures of stereotyping and prejudice actually measure.

For instance, Fazio and Olson (2003) reviewed implicit measures in psychology. There are a variety of techniques used such as priming (like Payne's research) where college students are generally quicker to identify distasteful or negatively charged words that have been primed with a picture of an African-American and are slower to identify positive words under the same conditions. Perhaps the most used measure is the Implicit Association Test (IAT), developed by Greenwald and associates (Greenwald, McGhee, and Schwartz 1998). This measure assesses the strength of an association between an attribute and a target concept by measuring the latency with which participants can employ two response keys that have each been given a dual meaning. So participants most often respond faster when negative stimuli are associated with African-Americans. Other measures include the completion of word fragments various GO/NO-GO procedures and others. There are also studies that use various physiological procedures. Interestingly, despite their sophistication, Fazio and Olson report that many of these studies are atheoretical in their assumptions and inconsistent in their findings.

For instance, Olson and Fazio (2003) used the IAT and a priming technique called the "bona fide pipeline" (BFP; Fazio, Jackson, Dunton, and Williams 1995) to measure racial stereotyping. The BFP assesses the evaluation activated in response to a prime by considering how the prime facilitates judging the connotation of following evaluative adjectives. While one would think that the IAT and BFP would show strong correlations, this is not always the case. In fact, Olson and Fazio believe that they access two different constructs. The IAT is based on the hypothesis that two categories associated in memory will be more easily represented by the same response key than when the categories are not associated. The BFP bases scores only on the evaluation automatically activated in response to an exemplar and this may or may not include category-level information.

Olson and Fazio had 92 white participants (61 females and 31 males) participate in an experiment with both the BFP and IAT. The BFP procedure involved four phases: In Phase 1, participants identified the connotation of 12 positive and 12 negative adjectives by pressing either a "good" or a "bad" key. In Phase 2, they saw Black, White, Asian, and Latino faces are were told to learn the faces and that would be tested later or to keep a mental tally of how many of the faces were of each ethnicity and that they would later be asked how many members of each race they saw (category condition). Phase 3 consisted of the test that participants anticipated they would complete. Phase 4 (the priming phase) combined the first two phases and consisted of four blocks. A prime, which participants were to either study or add to their racial tally, was presented briefly followed by a very brief interval and then the target adjective. Participants responded to the target as in Phase 1. At completion of the trials the participants in the category condition estimated the number of faces presented for one of the four races and participants in the traditional condition completed a face recognition test.

The IAT portion included 12 blocks of 50 trials. On any given trial, participants were presented with an exemplar of one of four categories: Black names, White names, pleasant words, and unpleasant words and categorized items by pressing one of two keys whose meanings changed depending on the block. Black and White names were categorized in Blocks 1 and 2, and pleasant and unpleasant items in Blocks 3 and 4. Blocks 5 through 7 were counterbalanced so that one of the races and pleasant words were assigned to one response key, and the other race and unpleasant words were assigned to the other key. Blocks 8 and 9 involved categorizing Black and White names, with the meaning of the keys reversed. Blocks 10 through 12 were identical to Blocks 5 through 7, but the race that was associated with pleasant items was now associated with unpleasant items and vice versa.

In the BFP findings participants significantly associated negative scores (stereotypes) in the category condition compared to the traditional condition. In the IAT results participants appeared prejudiced against Blacks and IAT scores did not vary as a function of BFP performance. The proportion of participants displaying some degree of negativity toward Blacks was significantly lower for the traditional BFP condition (about half) than either the category BFP or the IAT (over three quarters in both). The category BFP and the IAT were similar in this respect. These findings indicate that procedures that make race salient produce findings that often appear more prejudicial than those that do not. Thus context in these studies appears important. So in psychometric studies what is being measured?

Going back to Payne's inspiration for his research we need to ask ourselves were the officers acting on base-rate information or prejudice? Does gun training increase confidence or decrease prejudice? Likewise, in Payne's original study are young white female college students acting on the basis of unfamiliarity, culturally transmitted risk factors, or their own racist views? Would African-Americans act similarly in Payne's paradigm? These studies do not answer these questions. Another way to think about this is if a frog or mouse runs from objects such as sticks that resemble snakes are they prejudiced towards sticks or are they acting on the basis of evolutionary survival programs. In snap decision making where survival may be threatened false positives are more acceptable than misses. One miss and you are out. The research needs to consider the more complex nature of these relationships and the bias inherent in their measures. Psychometric studies of risk need to be fine-tuned and more research needs to be done regarding the conclusions of many psychometric studies.

Socio-cultural Theories of Risk

Where psychological theories of risk focus on the individual social -- cultural theories of risk focus on how group's, organizations, and society interact with the individual to confront the notion of risk. A popular socio-cultural theory of risk in the 1980s and 1990s was that of a Risk Society (Beck 1992; Giddens 1999). This was an attempt to describe the way in which modern societies evolve or organize in response to risk. The major issues involved in this theory were concerned with technological and environmental issues, thus the theory was criticized on these grounds. The major idea here was that as a society examines itself the changes itself in the process (reflexivity; Beck 1992). From a societal point-of-view is society can assess risks such as environmental pollution, crime etc. And reorganize itself in response to these.

For example, in previous non-industrialized societies the major risks were different (e.g., natural disasters) and society relied on institutions like the church to deal with risk. During the industrial revolution corporations became powerful and manual labor was important. People became less concerned with the church and more concerned with being loyal to corporations, business, and work. However, modern societies have been captivated by individualism as people became better educated and technology became available to everyone. This resulted in a highly educated information society which replaced the previous manual worker society. Instead of value being placed on loyalty to preview structures like corporations these individuals reflected on these relationships with these institutions and concluded that they were no longer necessary. Thus in the late 20th century there was a shift in personal meaning in Western societies from identifying with and being loyal to institutions to one in which the self was now defined as the primary agent of meaning (Giddens 1999). Thus, overnight the cultural meaning of risk and identity were shifted. One of the strengths of risk theory is that it offers an explanation as to how the shift in focus from "we to me" so to speak was affected modern malady; however, there is no reason to believe that technology caused people to shift this focus is more valid than the idea that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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