What is Cultural Bias?

Cultural bias is a major concern in research-heavy fields such as sociology.
Cultural bias is a major concern in research-heavy fields such as sociology.

Cultural bias is a form of ethnocentrism in which people from a particular ethnic background judge the outside world through a worldview based on their own cultural standards. It is different from racism in that it targets cultural differences rather than anthropological characteristics like skin color. Bias occurs when people of one culture presume that their social conventions are universal. They feel that people who do not follow those conventions are outcasts. They refuse to acknowledge ethnic diversity, which leads to social disharmony.

Cultural bias is a critical issue in social and human sciences like psychology, anthropology, sociology, economy, etc. There are many ways that cultural bias plays out like in employee perceptions, judicial decisions, education, health-care provision, media attention, etc. Some examples can be: an employee from a particular cultural background may not be deemed to deserve promotion; a teacher may show less interest in the progress of students of a particular community, a judge may consciously or unconsciously give a harsher verdict to a person who hails from a community that he or she considers inferior.

Cultural Dominance

Normally, it is the people of the dominant culture in a region who exhibit cultural bias. One of the justifications for European colonialism was that indigenous peoples in other parts of the world needed to be civilized according to Western culture. After World War II, the United States became the dominant culture as can be seen in the US-centric content of its movies, music, video games, arts, literature and other cultural expressions.

Many psychological studies have been accused of ethnocentrism due to the majority of researchers and research subjects being white American men. This leaves questions about whether or not these studies are applicable to minority populations and people who may follow other cultural norms. Ethnocentric research cannot provide information about universal human behavior.

Cultural Competency

Cultural competency is the capacity to appreciate ethnic differences and think and act in ways that accept cultural diversity. Experts in many fields have attempted to develop research and implementation methods that are more inclusive of cultural differences. Globalization and the digital era are bringing people of different cultures increasingly in contact.

Countering Ethnocentrism

Citizens of the global village have no choice but to embrace cultural diversity because it is here to stay. This cultural empathy is crucial not only for researchers but also educators, health-care providers, attorneys, social workers and others who work in a cross-cultural milieu. It is necessary to avoid emotional, physical and economic conflict. Cultural competency can be achieved by creating universal awareness about the need to respect the thought patterns, values and beliefs of other cultures.

Multi-national companies employ culturally-diverse people in various countries. Now, many corporations conduct special trainings on cross-cultural communication and behaviour. The United States has initiated a practice of inviting cultural experts before making judicial decisions involving people of minority communities. Another example is the theory of Afrocentrism, which proposes that since black people have cultural roots in Africa, theories and research methods must take into account the social norms and cultural values that apply to individuals with that background.


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