Gamma Bias: A new theory
Martin Seager and John Barry on 'cognitive distortions' around gender.
28 February 2020
A few weeks ago there was a heated but welcome discussion on Twitter regarding whether The Psychologist gave too much space to identity politics and left-leaning views (Relojo-Howell, 2020). Many seemed supportive of the magazine’s position on this question, but regardless of the balance of individual opinions, it was refreshing to see this level of debate and an openness to the idea that the British Psychological Society might need to represent a greater diversity of views. After all, cognitive bias is a common feature of the human condition (e.g. Beck’s theory of cognitive distortion in depression; Yurica & DiTomasso, 2005) and understanding cognitive biases is, arguably, at the very heart of what psychological science is all about.
Accepting that individual and group identities are a vital part of human psychology, and that different identities, voices and experiences can be unconsciously highlighted or hidden within certain cultures and narratives, we have proposed a new concept of cognitive bias called gamma bias (Seager & Barry, 2019). This builds on the existing concepts of alpha bias (the magnification of gender differences) and beta bias (the minimisation of gender differences) and shows that these two opposite distortions can operate simultaneously.
Gamma bias operates within a matrix of four possible judgments about gender: doing good (celebration), doing harm (perpetration), receiving good (privilege) and receiving harm (victimhood). The theory predicts that within mainstream western cultures, masculinity is highlighted only in the domain of 'privilege' and 'perpetration' but hidden in the domains of 'celebration' and 'victimhood'. This means for example that the heroism performed mainly by men (e.g. firemen) will be gender neutralised ('firefighters') by the inclusion of a small minority of women, whereas a much larger proportion of female perpetrators and male victims will be excluded from our highly gendered narratives and policies about sexual and domestic violence.
Such cognitive distortions, we believe, are leading to a systematic exaggeration of the negative aspects of men and masculinity within mainstream culture, and a minimisation of positive aspects. These embedded distortions could be having a significantly harmful impact on the psychological health of boys and men and therefore on our society as a whole, including the psychology profession.
We welcome collaboration with all those with a passion to research and study these vital issues and this theme will form one part of our inaugural British Psychological Society Male Psychology Section conference in June.
Martin Seager (Past Chair) & John Barry (Current Chair)
The Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society
Barry, J.A. (2020). Would the British Psychological Society (BPS) be improved by promoting a diversity of views? Accessed online 27th Feb 2020 https://malepsychology.org.uk/2020/02/24/would-the-british-psychological-society-bps-be-improved-by-promoting-a-diversity-of-views/
Male Psychology Section Conference. Accessed online 27th Feb 2020 https://www.bps.org.uk/events/male-psychology-section-conference-2020/registration
Relojo-Howell, D (2020). Diversity, Oppression, and Decolonisation – Are There Too Many Social Justice Articles on ‘The Psychologist’? Created 24th Feb 2020, Accessed online 27th Feb 2020 https://www.psychreg.org/diversity-oppression-decolonisation/
Seager, M., & Barry, J. A. (2019). Cognitive distortion in thinking about gender issues: Gamma bias and the gender distortion matrix. In The Palgrave handbook of male psychology and mental health (pp. 87- 104). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. Accessed online 27th Feb 2020 https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1_5
Yurica, C.L. & DiTomasso, R.A. (2005). Cognitive distortions. In Encyclopedia of cognitive behavior therapy (pp. 117–122). Boston, MA: Springer, US.