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Issues and Debates in Psychology

Issues and debates in psychology is a key section that covers various issues in psychological research as well as some of the philosophical debates which influence such research.

Philosophical debates have influenced psychological research in several ways. Issues about what shapes human behavior, how humans make decisions, and how we should study human beings, are all relevant to the development of psychological research.

The topics we will be studying as part of the issues and debates section are outlined below.

Issues and debates in psychology: Gender Bias

Gender bias in psychology is the perception or treatment of one gender in a more or less favorable way compared to another, based on stereotypes. Gender bias in psychology can impact the validity and reliability of results. It is important to study the different types of gender bias so that we can identify them in psychological research. The types of gender bias we will cover are:

  • Alpha bias - this refers to the exaggeration of the differences between men and women. Beta bias refers to the minimization of differences between men and women
  • Androcentrism - this is a type of beta bias that refers to the perception of male thinking and behavior as 'normal'
  • Gynocentrism - this is a type of beta bias that refers to the perception of female thinking and behaviors as 'normal'

In this topic area, we will be looking at some specific studies as examples of gender bias in psychology.

Issues and debates in psychology: Cultural Bias

Cultural bias in psychology is when research, findings or theories from one culture are applied to another. Cultural bias in psychology can impact the validity and reliability of results. It is important to study the different types of cultural bias so that we can identify them in psychological research. The concepts we cover in cultural bias are:

  • Ethnocentrism - this refers to the belief or assumption that one culture's ideas, values and practices are 'natural' and 'correct'.
  • Cultural relativism - this refers to the consideration of values, practices or norms within each culture individually and in its own context. It can be used to reduce ethnocentrism.
  • Cross-cultural psychology - this is also known as cross-cultural research and looks at the influence of cultural factors on behavior. Studying behaviors across cultures helps researchers understand which behaviors are innate and which are learned.

In this topic area, we will be looking at some studies as examples of cultural bias in psychology.

Issues and Debates in Psychology Culture bias StudySmarterCultural bias can affect the validity of psychological research. flaticon.com

Issues and debates in psychology: philosophical debates in psychology

Let us now look at some of the other issues and debates in psychology that more philosophical in nature.

Free will and determinism

The debate about free will versus determinism is concerned with the extent to which our thoughts and behaviors are influenced by uncontrollable factors. Those who believe in free will argue that humans are not influenced by external factors and can make their own decisions autonomously. Believers in free will acknowledge that there are external factors that may affect our behavior, but ultimately individuals decide for themselves how to respond to these.

On the other hand, supporters of determinism argue that human beings cannot exercise free will because our behavior is the result of both internal and external forces. Free will is therefore an illusion. There are two types of determinism:


  • Hard determinism is the view that our behavior is the result of factors beyond our control, such as our biology or our experiences. Free will is an illusion. Hard determinism includes biological, psychic, and environmental determinism.
  • Soft determinism is the view that our behavior is the result of factors beyond our control. We still retain some elements of free will. For example, being born into a poor family is an environmental constraint but making the choice to steal is an example of free will.

In this topic area, we also look at the scientific emphasis on causal explanations and how this supports determinism.

Reductionism and holism

The debate about reductionism versus holism is concerned with the best way to understand and study human behavior. Holism is the view that human behavior cannot be broken down into smaller components and so should be studied as a whole. Reductionism is the view that human behavior should be broken down into smaller components in order to understand it. There are two types of reductionism:

  • Biological reductionism refers to the reduction of behavior into physiological structures. This includes genetics, hormones, and brain activity.
  • Environmental reductionism refers to the reduction of behavior to 'a response to a stimulus'.

The 'nature-nurture' debate

The nature-nurture debate in psychology is concerned with the source of the formation of a person's characteristics and behavior. It studies whether these characteristics are a result of our nature (genetics) or nurture (environment).

Traditionally, the debate has taken an either-or approach; however, it has changed over time to adopt an interactionist approach. This approach studies how nature and nurture work with each other rather than how they compete. We will study the impact of the interactionist approach on the debate.

In this topic area, we will be looking at different psychological approaches and studies that 'support' either nature or nurture.

Idiographic and nomothetic approaches

The debate about idiographic and nomothetic approaches is concerned with how research is carried out in psychology. The idiographic approach focuses on individuals and their experiences of human behavior. This approach uses qualitative methods to study human behavior.

The nomothetic approach takes the view that there are general laws about human behavior that can be studied using groups of people. This approach uses quantitative methods to study human behavior.

In this topic area, we will be looking at different studies that have used both approaches to study human behavior.

Ethics and socially sensitive research

The debate about ethics and socially sensitive research is concerned with the ethical implications of research studies and theory on participants. It is also concerned with how the findings of studies may affect the public.

  • The 'ethical implications of research studies' consider distress felt by participants due to the nature of some experiments and their findings. They also consider whether participants gave informed consent to an experiment. This is especially relevant when an experiment requires the researcher to withhold information from participants.
  • The 'ethical implications of theories' consider whether some theories about humans and human behavior affect how people see themselves and others.
  • Socially sensitive research considers several factors that researchers should weigh up before conducting research or developing a theory. Such factors include the research question, methodology, context of the research, and potential interpretations and applications of findings.

In this topic, we will be looking at various studies and theories in psychological research that provoked discussion about ethics and socially sensitive research.

Issues and Debates in Psychology Perspectives StudySmarterIssues and debates consider various perspectives in psychology and philosophy, Flaticon

Issues and Debates in Psychology - Key takeaways

  • 'Issues and debates in psychology' is a key section that considers various real-life topics and approaches. It covers issues in psychological research as well as philosophical debates which influence such research.
  • Gender bias in psychology is the perception or treatment of one gender in a more or less favorable way compared to another, based on gender stereotypes. Gender bias can influence psychological research in various ways.
  • Cultural bias in psychology is when research, findings or theories from one culture are applied to another. Cultural bias can influence psychological research in various ways.
  • Philosophical debates can and have influenced psychological research in several ways. Issues about what shapes human behavior, how human beings make decisions, and how we should study humans, are all relevant to the development of psychological research.

Frequently Asked Questions about Issues and Debates in Psychology

In the topic of issues and debates, it is debated whether psychology is a science. Psychology is considered to be a science as it uses the scientific method in research. It is generally considered to be a social science.

The major debates in psychology are debates about cultural and gender bias, free will and determinism, reductionism and holism, nature and nurture and idiographic and nomothetic approaches.

Final Issues and Debates in Psychology Quiz

Question

Why do we consider philosophical debates in the context of psychological research?


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We consider philosophical debates in psychological research because the debates are relevant when deciding how to study humans. Questions about what shapes human behavior, how humans make decisions, and how humans change are all relevant to the development of psychological research.

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What is gender bias in psychology?


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Gender bias in psychology is the perception or treatment of one gender in a more or less favorable way compared to another gender, based on gender stereotypes.

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What is cultural bias in psychology?


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Cultural bias in psychology is when research, findings or theories from one culture are applied to another.

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Which philosophical debate is concerned with how we should study humans in psychological research?


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The philosophical debate concerned with the way we study humans in psychological research is the debate of reductionism versus holism.

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Which methods do idiographic and nomothetic approaches use to study human behavior?


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The idiographic approach uses qualitative methods and the nomothetic approach uses quantitative methods to study human behavior.

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Is it true or false that the nature-nurture debate is concerned with the extent to which our thoughts and behaviors are influenced by uncontrollable factors?


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This is false. The nature-nurture debate is concerned with the source of the formation of a person's characteristics and behavior. It studies whether we are a result of nature or nurture.

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What is gender bias?

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Gender bias is the more favorable or unfavorable perception or treatment of any gender group.

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How can gender bias affect psychological research?


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Gender bias can affect psychological research if it is not conducted fairly or produces misleading or inaccurate findings. Research can also be impacted if it is overly generalized or based on cultural values ​​rather than scientific factors. An example of gender bias is using all-male participants to study human behavior; this is because the results will be applied to everyone even though there were no female participants.

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Question

Which one of the following is NOT a type of beta bias?

  • Androcentrism 

  • Alpha bias 

  • Gynocentrism 

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Answer

Alpha bias

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Is it considered alpha bias if a study suggests that female brains are more inclined to make decisions based on morality whilst male brains are more likely to make decisions based on their own interests?


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Yes. Alpha bias exaggerates the differences between men and women and appears to favor one gender over the other. In this case, the study makes females seem 'better' than their male counterparts.


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What is one disadvantage of alpha bias?


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One disadvantage of alpha bias is that the differences betwen men and women may sometimes come from cultural values, which can be hard to distinguish in psychological findings. Other correct answers include: there are differences within genders, alpha bias upholds stereotypes and justifies discrimination, the differences may not exist as much as portrayed, and alpha bias appears to maintain male dominance in several contexts.

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Question

Which of the following is considered to be gender bias?

  • Conducting a psychological study on memory with 50 female and 50 male participants and considering differences in results between genders
  • Studying the influence of external factors on men and women when making a moral decision
  • Publishing comprehensive findings of amnesia using 1,200 female amnesiac patients

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Answer

The final study contains gender (gynocentric) bias as there are generalized findings to all human beings when only one gender was studied. The findings make assumptions about male amnesiac patients without studying them for any differences. 


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What is the definition of ethnocentrism?

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Ethnocentrism is the belief or assumption that one culture's ideas, values and practices are 'natural' or 'correct'. The individual uses the standards in their own culture to assess other cultural groups or races.

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Why was the strange situation procedure considered to be ethnocentric?


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The Strange Situation procedure was considered to be ethnocentric because it assumed that the secure attachment style was the 'healthiest' form of attachment between an infant and mother. This concept was an American concept that was believed to be 'correct' and 'natural'. In fact, it did not consider cultural variations in child-rearing practices.

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What is cultural bias?


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Cultural bias is when a study, research or findings from one culture are applied to another. For example, it may be inappropriate to apply Western theories about obedience to other cultures as the theories may be based on Western ideals of obedience.

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What is the main aim of cultural relativism?


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The main aim of cultural relativism is to avoid or reduce ethnocentrism in scientific studies.

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How can a researcher from the UK study the differences in familial relationships across East Asia without being ethnocentric?


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The researcher can ensure they are not subconsciously holding the belief or assumption that their culture's values ​​about familial relationships are 'correct'. They must take care not to use Western ideals to evaluate East Asian familial structures. They should consider each country and culture individually and ensure all relevant factors are considered before reaching conclusions.

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What is the nature-nurture debate in psychology?

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The nature-nurture debate in psychology concerns whether our characteristics, behavior and personality are due to our genetics (nature) or our environment (nurture). It is concerned with which of these two 'factors' influences our behavior more. This may help us understand why humans behave in certain ways.

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Which nativist theory suggests that children are born with the ability to understand different language categories?


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Chomsky's Universal Grammar Theory (1965). It proposes that all humans are innately capable of learning a language. The human mind is 'prewired' for language learning.

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How does empiricism contrast with nativism?


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Empiricism claims that our minds are a 'tabula rasa' (blank slate) at birth and that they are gradually filled with knowledge and experiences. These shape our behavior. On the other hand, nativism claims that our biology is 'written' and that we are born with behavioral tendencies and abilities.

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Which side of the nature-nurture debate did the findings of Bandura's Bobo doll study support?


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Bandura's Bobo doll study supported the nurture side of the debate, as it showed that behavior, in particular aggression, was learned by observation and imitation.

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Which type of study would be appropriate to see whether memory is influenced by genetics or the environment?


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An adoption study or twin study would be appropriate to determine whether memory is influenced by genetics or the environment, as comparisons could be made through different memory abilities.

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During a twin study involving identical twins in the same environment, if one twin is found to be more aggressive than the other, what does this suggest with regard to the nature-nurture debate?


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If one identical twin is more aggressive than the other despite being in the same environment, it is likely that the difference is due to environmental factors (nurture). As identical twins have the same genes, any differences are likely to be non-genetic.

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What is the name of the approach that suggests nature and nurture work together?


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The name of the approach that suggests nature and nurture work together is the interactionist approach.

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Name an interactionist model. Explain which condition it was used to study? 


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Answer

The diathesis-stress model. It was used to study schizophrenia.

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What are the three primary philosophical debates in psychology?

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The three main philosophical debates in psychology are the nature vs nurture debate, free will vs determinism, and reductionism vs holism.

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What does the nature vs nurture debate explore?

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The nature vs nurture debate attempts to explain human behaviour as a product of naturally occurring genes or as a product of environmental factors and life experience.

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True or false: Brunner's MAOA study supports nurture.

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False.

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Is behaviourism nature or nurture?

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Nurture.

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Which of these is a strength of nature?

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Nature provides a foundation to our behaviour with genetics.

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Which of these is a weakness of nature?

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Nature does not consider the complex social structures of society or the complicated situations that shape human development.

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What does the free will and determinism debate explore?

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The free will and determinism debate explores whether our actions are our choices or result from conditions, environment, and internal genetic and cognitive processes.

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Which of these are free-will ideas?

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The humanistic approach.

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What is a bias?

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A bias is a false or inaccurate perception about a group of people or a set of beliefs. These perceptions are often based on stereotypes relating to characteristics such as race, gender, or sexual orientation.

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What is unconscious or implicit bias?

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Unconscious or implicit bias is when our beliefs or attitudes are outside our awareness or control. For example, an automatic association of a nurse being female.

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What is universality in the context of psychological research?

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Universality means that psychological findings and theories are applicable to all people.

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In which two ways can psychological research be biased?

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Through a biased sample and biased interpretation of results.

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What is cultural bias?

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Cultural bias occurs when research findings from one culture are applied to another.

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How can cultural bias arise in psychological research?

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Cultural bias can arise when researchers assume there must be vast differences between cultures or if they fail to acknowledge real cultural differences.

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What is a subculture?

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A subculture is a smaller culture within a larger culture. Subcultures are grouped in some way, e.g., through age, social class, or sexual orientation.

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What is ethnocentrism?

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Ethnocentrism is the belief or assumption that a culture's ideas, values, and practices are 'natural' or 'right'. The standards of one culture are used to judge other cultural groups or races.

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What is the impact of ethnocentrism? 

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Using one culture's standards to assess other cultural groups or races may negatively portray different cultures' ideas or practices compared to one 'right' culture.

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How can psychologists reduce ethnocentrism?

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Psychologists can conduct cross-cultural research to assess which behaviours are universal and which are adapted. They can use an emic approach to cross-cultural research, i.e., assess cultures from an 'insider' perspective. They can also practice cultural relativism, i.e., considering each culture's values, practises, and norms individually to avoid judgments by the standards of another culture.

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What is gender bias?

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Gender bias means treating one gender more or less favourably based on gender stereotypes rather than actual differences.

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What are some impacts of gender bias in psychological research?

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Gender bias can cause misleading or inaccurate scientific results, perpetuate gender stereotyping and justify gender discrimination.

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Define alpha bias.

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Alpha bias is the exaggeration or emphasis on the differences between men and women. It makes one gender seem 'better' than the other. This usually involves devaluing the less 'superior' gender.

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Define beta bias.

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Beta bias is the downplaying of differences between men and women. It refers to research that applies equally to both genders without considering gender differences within the research.

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Which type of beta bias considers male thinking and behaviour the 'norm'?

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Answer

Androcentrism

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Summarise the argument of free will in the debate of free will and determinism.

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Answer

The argument of free will argues that humans have complete autonomy to make their own decisions. Proponents of free will argue that although external factors affect our behaviour, ultimately, humans decide how to respond to them. 

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Select the correct statement from the perspective of a supporter of free will.

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Answer

It is impossible to predict someone's behaviour with accuracy.

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