Written by Serie McDougal
Globalization increases the likelihood of diverse human interactions in the full range of societies’ institutions. Therefore, the threat of cultural bias is likely to continue to challenge validity in the research. Assumptions of universal validity are increasingly in doubt in light of cultural variation (Persson, 2012). Increased interaction between people of diverse cultural backgrounds, not only makes cultural sensitivity critical to the research process, but cultural competence has become all the more imperative. Given the fluid nature of culture, cultural competence is an ongoing process of self- reflection, learning, and relearning one’s own cultural position and those of populations of study. It is also the ability to engage in the research process in ways that affirm the cultures and contexts of the people being studied. In the interest of improving human service providing, economic and political initiatives, sometimes emphasize the utilitarian and practical value of research (Persson, 2012). However, this is often done to the exclusion of culture and the ways that culture can change how effective an initiative is from one context to the next. Although most evaluations of validity focus on the validity of tests and measurements (construct validity) (Hardin, Robitschek, Flores, Navarro & Ashton, 2014), cultural validity is relevant at every step of the research process.
Scientific communities, themselves, can be thought of as subcultures. Moreover, the researchers within them, knowingly and unknowingly, bring their own values and assumptions into the research process. This starts with the choice of what to research and the formulation of research questions. When choosing topics that are interesting and intriguing to the researcher, it is important to investigate how research questions relate to the needs and concerns of the population(s) being studied and how their priorities might be integrated into the research process, if necessary. Hardin, Robitschek, Flores, Navarro & Ashton (2014) explain how important it is for the researcher to consider how the central concepts being research have been defined in the past, and how they have been operationalized and evaluated. Researches must also investigate what groups these concepts derived from, what groups they have been applied to, and what results have shown. This forces the researcher to identify the specific cultural contexts from which their concepts of interest emerged, a prerequisite for identifying important differences in other contexts (Hardin, Robitschek, Flores, Navarro & Ashton, 2014).
It is critical for the researcher to interrogate the ways that culture may influence the meaning of the central concepts being studied or theories being tested. The meaning of a concept in one culture may differ greatly or slightly from one cultural context to the next. An evaluation of culture specific literature may provide insight about how concepts are construed in the cultures being studied and how they might be relevant to the research process. However, researchers should note that the volume of research on their topics might be skewed by country and academic discipline. Countries and academic disciplines carry their own cultural variations. Bias in literature from value laden disciplines may make it difficult to find literature that privileges the cultural perspectives of the people being studied. In these cases, it is important to target academic disciplines that focus on ethnic specific investigation or research that comes from the cultures being studied.
Preliminary interviews with populations of interest, can give the researcher a sense of how concepts are being construed in different or similar ways. It is important that the people being studied have an opportunity to have their realities investigated in ways that reflect the nuances of how they experience and understand phenomena on their own terms. The same process can be applied to testing theories. Theories are not value-neutral, and should be evaluated for culturally embedded assumptions (Persson, 2012). Many mainstream theories (models or frameworks) have been normed on racially/ethnically homogeneous samples. Those theories are often the more popular and easily identifiable ones. However, for this researcher this means specifically seeking out culture specific theories when they are available (Persson, 2012). It is critical to formulate and/or reevaluate research topics and questions in light of information gained from taking the aforementioned steps (Hardin, Robitschek, Flores, Navarro & Ashton, 2014).
When using non-culture specific quantitative measures or assessments, it is critical to avoid assuming their universal applicability. The researcher must statistically assess their validity where applied to different cultural groups, adding or removing items and dimensions where necessary. The choice of methods of data collection should be informed by the unique cultures and contexts of the sample being investigated. Cultural bias may also enter the process of making sense of, or interpreting the results of research investigations. Because of this, it is often helpful to consult stakeholder or target populations in the interpretations of results to ensure that multiple perspectives are considered. Lastly, it is critical to report the results of research in ways that help allow data to be used to improve the lives of target populations.
Hardin, E. , Robitschek, C. , Flores, L. , Navarro, R. & Ashton, M. (2014). The cultural lens approach to evaluating cultural validity of psychological theory. American Psychologist, 69(7), 656-668.
Persson, R. (2012). Cultural variation and dominance in a globalised knowledge-economy: Towards a culture-sensitive research paradigm in the science of giftedness. Gifted and Talented International, 27(1), 15-48.