What Are Some Examples Of Cultural Bias?

One of the main issues and debates in psychology focusses on the concept of cultural bias. The subject may be addressed in exam questions or essay topics, and it’s also an interesting and thought-provoking issue to think about on a personal level, which can enhance our understanding of the structure of societies and social systems. 

What is cultural bias?

Cultural bias can be defined as the dominance of one culture over another. This can cloud our ability to think critically and encourage the acceptance of our own cultural norms as universal. One of the consequences of this may be a conscious or subconscious acceptance of one’s own culture as the ‘norm’, and outside cultures as abnormal. 

This is a natural human trait and to a certain extent it can be difficult to avoid without some understanding of how other cultures work. Many influences can shape our thinking, whether to reinforce our existing prejudices or to challenge them. Here’s a look at a few examples of cultural bias. 

Cultural bias in mental health and cognitive function

Western societies can understand mental health and thought processes in a different way to other cultures. For example, a common symptom of schizophrenia is hearing voices, which is generally feared, considered strange, and even mocked in Western cultures. 

However, other cultures do not always judge the symptoms negatively, and may even regard them as a positive trait. This is an example of how any behaviour that deviates from ‘norms’ can be open to interpretation. 

Another well-known case of cognitive bias was highlighted by the Cole et al study. The researchers asked members of an African tribe to sort a set of objects into groups. Instead of sorting them into categories that most Westerners would consider logical, such as food, tools, and so on, the tribe members placed objects in groups according to function.

For example, knives were placed alongside food because they are used to cut up the food for eating or cooking. An outside observer might regard this method as ‘incorrect’ but when the tribe members were shown how a Western person would approach the task, they too considered this to be illogical.


Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view our own culture as normal, and other cultures as inferior or abnormal. The problem is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of research in psychology has been conducted by educated white Western males until very recently. 

Attempts have been made to address this problem through cultural relativism, which regards all cultures with equal status. However this brings other issues, because sometimes genuine and important cultural differences can be minimised or ignored. 

Ethical concepts of right and wrong

Ethics are concerned with what behaviour is morally right or wrong. We may think of this as a black and white issue, but in fact ethics can be based on our personal values and the values of the society we live in. For example, some cultures regard certain animals as sacred, while others regard slaughtering them for meat and hides as normal. 

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