Sociocultural extension portfolio

The following activity is a way to get students to prepare for the HL extensions. I have students work in groups of three to carry out the task below. 

I do this in the second year as we begin getting ready for mock exams.  By then, students have been exposed to all three of the extensions and can choose which of the approaches they will prepare for the May exams. The activity below is also to allow for peer feedback.

I have included a potential sample essay below.

Student copy

Sociocultural approach extension questions

  • Discuss how globalization may affect behaviour.
  • Discuss the interaction between local and global influences on behaviour.
  • Evaluate research methods used to study the influence of globalization on behaviour

The task

There are three components to the task.

First, students are asked to indicate for each question which studies they would use.  You will notice that compared to the biological extension, there are only three questions which they may be asked - and the questions do not combine with the topics in a meaningful way, meaning that they will be asked as stand alone questions.

Second, for all three of the essays, they are asked to design a mind map. There are several free programs online that you may use to do this.  I used to create the one below.

Finally, students work in teams to write an essay.  There are different ways that they may approach this.  A person writes draft one, then the second edits and the third finalizes it.  The more common approach is that each one writes on paragraph and then the put it together as a group. This is submitted as an assessment.

Sample mind map

Question: Evaluate research methods used in the study of globalization and behaviour.

Sample essay

Evaluate research methods used in the study of globalization and behaviour.

Globalization is the concept of culture spreading around the globe.  One of the behaviours that psychologists study is abnormal behaviour.  Ethan Watters has argued that the prevalence of certain disorders like anorexia and depression have increased as the result of globalization.  Western definitions and symptoms of disorders are increasing being seen in countries that are “Westernizing.”  How do we know whether this is a valid argument?  It is important for psychologists to evaluate the methods used by researchers who make these claims.

Becker carried out a natural experiment to measure the role of globalization on attitudes toward body weight in Fiji.  They wanted to see if introducing television to the island would lead to an increase in eating disorders.  They studied two schools of girls.  Until television was introduced, being overweight was seen as beautiful.  Girls attitudes toward eating were measured before the introduction of television. The study was also a natural experiment - television was not an independent variable that was manipulated by the researcher, but the researcher took advantage of something that was happening in Fiji. The girls were given surveys and an interview to confirm the results of the survey.  The researchers found a significant increase in negative attitudes toward body weight and a higher rate of dieting and purging behaviour. 77% reported that television had made them think differently about their body shape.

The study is a natural experiment, which in addition to meaning that the researcher did not manipulate the IV, it also means that there were no controls for confounding variables. The study was prospective, so it was able to see change over time.  However, it was also an imposed etic approach. The test (survey) that was given to the girls was a Western test.  This means that the researchers are assuming that the behaviour will be like the behaviours in the west.  But the study does show an increased in disordered eating.  Natural experiments cannot be replicated, meaning that it is not easy to determine the reliability of the results.  However, other studies have shown that the introduction of Western media in places like China and India has led to similar results.

Another study was carried out by N and Uchinda. They wanted to find out what happens when there is a conflict between one’s “local culture” and one’s “global culture.”  The study that they did was a correlational study.  They wanted to see if there was a correlation between a person’s attitudes about conformity and collectivism, their local culture and the risk of hikikomori – a disorder in which people isolate themselves from society.   First, the participants were given a test to see their level of risk for hikikomori.  They then gave them a test for their level of collectivism and attitudes toward Japanese society.  The found that those participants who were at high risk for hikikomori were also those that scored low on both local culture (not agreeing with the conformity of Japanese society) and global culture (not identifying with the world of the Internet).   The study indicates that this alienation increases the risk for hikikomori.

This study was a correlational study.  It compared data from different tests and found the relationship between the variables.  The limitation of correlational research is that there is no cause and effect that can be found.  There is also the problem of bidirectional ambiguity.  It is not clear whether the alienation leads to hikikomori – or whether the nature of hikikomori leads to feelings of alienation.  In this study, they also gathered information from surveys. These may be subject to demand characteristics where the participants may fill it out in a certain way to be more socially acceptable.  Finally, there is the problem of how variables are defined.  Although the participants are assessed for “risk for hikikomori”, none of the participant actually have hikikomori.   There is, then, a concern about the validity of the findings.

Globalization is a big concept that is difficult to operationalize.  This makes designing research to study its effect complicated. Much of the research done so far is relatively new, meaning that many of the studies have not been replicated to establish reliability.  And yet, carrying true experiments where an independent variable is manipulated and a dependent variable is measured is rather unlikely.  This means it will be difficult to know the extent to which globalization causes certain behaviours.

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