An investigation of the influence of mental retardation on college students' judgments of social distance

Dent, Harold Edward
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The present investigation was designed principally to determine the relative importance of mental retardation as a component of social distance among college students. Several subsidiary hypotheses concerning the relationship between certain rater variables and acceptance of the retarded were also examined. The Dent-Dole-Distance Scale (3-D Scale) was developed as a measuring technique. The 3-D procedure combines the multidimensional method of stimulus presentation (Triandis, 1960) with the original Bogardus-type social distance scale. Selected descriptive terms designate the desirable and the undesirable levels of four stimulus components: Intellectual Status--intellectually normal vs mentally retarded; Ethnicity--your own nationality vs American Negro; Dependability-- very dependable vs undependable; Friendliness--very friendly vs unfriendly. In a series of pilot studies it was established that the terms for the latter two components were independent of all other stimulus terms and also equally applicable to the normal and the retarded. The validity and stability of the scale was also established. The component terms were arranged in all possible combinations to form 17 hypothetical stimulus persons. Ss were asked to indicate on a 5 point scale their willingness to associate with each of the stimulus persons in eight situations that varied in social intimacy. The Philosophies of Human Nature (PHN) measures a person's beliefs about human nature and his beliefs about the interpersonal aspects of human nature along six basic dimensions: Trustworthiness; Altruism; Independence; strength of Will; Complexity of human nature and Variability of human nature (Wrightsman, 1964). An index of general Favorability of human nature can be obtained from the sum of the first four substantive subscales. The Ss were 132 University of Hawaii undergraduate introductory psychology students from diverse ethnic backgrounds. The two scales were administered separately by different administrators during regular class sessions. Results A 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 factorial analysis of variance was performed on the social distance data. The estimates of variance indicated that the Intellectual status component accounted for 43 per cent of the total variance of the social distance scores. Friendliness contributed 27 per cent of the variance, while Dependability contributed 22 per cent and Ethnicity controlled only 2 per cent. The hypothesis that mental retardation would exercise a greater influence on social distance scores than other stimulus components among socially 'liberal' college students was supported. No significant differences were obtained between means of social distance scores assigned by male and female Ss. In addition, sex differences usually detected by the PHN Scale did not emerge. Cultural factors were offered as a possible explanation for these findings. Relationships between social distance and other demographic variables were negligible. To test the remaining hypotheses high, middle and low subgroups were formed on the basis of the PHN Scale scores. For Ss high in Favorability the Intellectual Status component controlled 43 per cent of the variance, whereas for low Favorability Ss it accounted for 57 per cent of the estimated variance. The order of importance of stimulus components, Intellectual Status, Friendliness, Dependability, and Ethnicity was the same for all Ss except for those Ss who viewed human nature as complex and difficult to understand. For these Ss mental retardation was equally as powerful a determinant of social distance as for other Ss. However, high Complexity Ss considered the fact that a person was very dependable more important than if he were friendly, regardless of that person's intellectual status. Implications for further research and possible application of the 3-D Scale were discussed.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Hawaii, 1966.
Bibliography: leaves [92]-95.
viii, 95 l tables
Mental retardation, Social distance, College students
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