Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chair(s)

William R. Dobson


William R. Dobson


Keith Checketts


Richley Crapo


The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between differing stated causes of deviant behavior which is commonly labelled mental illness, and the perceived seriousness of these behaviors in determining judgments of the degree of responsibility attributed to described deviant individuals. This was accomplished by having subjects rate four different vignettes as to degree of perceived seriousness and degree of responsibility for behavior.

The subjects were 76 undergraduate students enrolled in either introductory psychology and/or introductory anthropology. The subjects were divided into four groups. Each group of 19 subjects received the same four vignettes. Each vignette gave a behavioral description which was characteristic of one of four categories of mental illness: paranoid schizophrenic, simple schizophrenic, depressed neurotic, and phobic compulsive. Each group received a different stated cause for the described behavior. These causes were biological, social learning, unknown, and both biological and social learning. The subjects were asked to rate the individual described in each vignette as to how serious they perceived the individual's behavior to be on a scale of 1-4. Subjects were also asked to rate how responsible the described individual was, in their judgment, for his behavior on a scale of 1-5.

The specific questions addressed by this study were: (1) Does the degree of responsibility for deviant behavior attributed by normal individuals to various types of described deviant behavior vary as a function of the stated cause of behavior? (2) Does the degree of responsibility for deviant behavior attributed by normal individuals to various types of described deviant behavior vary as a function of the perceived seriousness of the behavior? and (3) Do stated cause and perceived seriousness of behavior interact in determining the degree of responsibility normal individuals attribute to deviant individuals.

The results of this study indicated that there is a significant relationship between the perceived seriousness and degree of responsibility attributed to deviant individuals. More specifically, the paranoid schizophrenic individual, rated as the most serious, was seen as significantly less responsible than the less serious depressed neurotic or phobic compulsive individual. No significant main effect was found for the stated cause of behavior and no significant interaction, cause by perceived seriousness, was found.

These results provide support for the notion that perceived seriousness contributes more to the determination of attribution of responsibility than does the stated cause of behavior. The implications of these findings as they relate to psychiatric rehabilitation were discussed as were the limitations of this study which included concerns regarding instrumentation and statistical analysis.



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