Psychological Reports, 1979, 44, 1277-1278. @ Psychological Reports 1979
ATTRIBUTION OF MENTAL DISORDERS: A PRELIMINARY REPORT' APRIL S. HATCHER AND E. EUGENE SCHULTZ, JR.' Milligan College Sumnzary.-Typically, individuals assign blame to victims of unfortunate circumstances. When external constraints are increased, less blame is usually assigned. In the present study. causal attribution for mental disorders was examined by varying external constraints. Subjects were 96 undergraduate srudents enrolled in an introductory psychology course. Results yielded no consistent external or internal attributions which may indicate an important exception to the tendency to blame victims.
Attribution theory deals with perceived causes of behavior. Abnormal literature lacks studies dealing with causal attribution of abnormal behavior. Do people attribute abnormal behavior in others to internal or external causes? Social psychological studies demonsrrate that victims of unfortunate circumstances (1, 4 ) and transgressors of the law ( 2 ) are perceived as having their behavior determined by internal faccors. Blame is thus assigned to both victims and transgressors. However, the more external or siruational constraints are present, the less responsibility is assigned to the actor for his behavior ( 2 ) . People who develop mental disorders may receive blame for their abnormal behavior since such people may be perceived as being victims. However, situational constraints (such as family and medical problems) may lessen the perceived responsibility assigned to the actor for the abnormal behavior. Because males tend co place more blame on the actor than do females ( 3 ) , males should also assign more blame for abnormal behavior. Ninety-six undergraduate students who were enrolled in introductory psychology courses volunteered to participate in this study. N o subject had yet been exposed to course content dealing with abnormal psychology. Four stories about circumstances preceding the onset of a mental disorder for a hypothetical actor were prepared. Each story dealt with a different type of constraint (medical, family financial problems with an alcernacive, family financial problems without an alternative, and personal greed). Subjects were randomly assigned to one of the four "constraint" conditions. After reading the story of the hypothetical actor, subjects were given a seven-item questionnaire. Questions included items such as: "To what exrent was Mr. X's mental disorder unavoidable?" and "Do you think Mr. X is psychologically responsible for his mental disorder?" A seven-point scale was used. In addition, subjects rated Mr. X on six bipolar adjectives, using scale values from +3 to -3. lThe assistance of Susan Roberts in data collection is gratefully acknowledged. 'Requests for reprints should be addressed to E. Eugene Schultz, Jr., Department of Psychology. Milligan College, Milligan College. Tennessee 37682.
A. S. HATCHER & E. E. SCHULTZ,JR.
Subjects did not consistently attribute internal or external factors to the development of the mental disorder, although perceived constraint varied as a function of constraint description ( F 3 , 8 8 = 4.76, p ,005). Means for each constraint condition described above were 4.63 ( a = 1.72), 3.46 ( o = 1.91), 4.29 ( U = 2.22) and 3.21 ( U = 3.04), respectively. This main effect was qualified by a significant interaction of sex X constraint condition (F3,88 = 4.55, p < .01). Results for the bipolar adjective ratings showed that females perceived abnormal behavior as more constrained when constraints involved medical problems ( M = 1.17, o = 1.53) or family problems ( M = 1.50, u = 1.17) ; males' mean ratings in these conditions were 0.92 ( a = 1.78) and 0.67 ( U = 1.72), respectively. Males perceived greater constraint due to greed ( M = 1.42, u = 1.08) or refusal to turn to outside sources for financial help ( M = 1.42, a = 1.31); females' mean ratings in these conditions were 0.92 ( U = 1.93) and 0.92 ( U = 1.93), respectively. Preliminary results suggest that freedom of choice is not an important determinant of causal attribution for abnormal behavior. These findings contrast sharply with those from social psychological attribution studies. Possibly mentally disordered "victims" may be excluded from the attributional tendency to blame the victim, such that situational constraints may be of little consequence in attribution. The fact that only a male actor was described may also have affected results. Further research is being conducted to explain these results and to determine what external factors are important in attribution of abnormal behavior. It would also be interesting - to study attribution of other illnesses, such as psychosomatic disorders and alcoholism.