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Experimental Effects of Manipulating Attributional Information about Challenging Behaviour

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The informal staff culture in intellectual disability services has been proposed as a significant factor determining staff perceptions of, and responses towards, challenging behaviours. However, research to date has been exclusively descriptive. Methods 

An experimental analogue of one potentially salient aspect of staff informal culture, the causal language used to describe challenging behaviours, was developed. Na├»ve participants (N = 84 students) rated attributional dimensions and optimism after viewing a video of aggressive behaviour. Participants were exposed to vignettes in which information about the behaviour's controllability and stability was manipulated prior to viewing the video. Results 

Controllability and stability manipulations affected later perception of dimensions of causal attributions (e.g. behaviour presented as controllable was rated as caused by factors more likely to be internal to the depicted client), and optimism (e.g. behaviour presented as stable was associated with a less positive perception of potential for change). Conclusion 

Staff talk in intellectual disability services, especially language communicating causal information, is likely to affect perceptions of subsequent incidents of challenging behaviours. This may have important implications for the treatment and assessment of challenging behaviour. Further research is needed to replicate and extend the findings of this study and also to contribute to the development of external validity.
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Keywords: attributions; challenging behaviours; experimental study; service culture

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Psychology, University of Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales LL57 2DG, UK

Publication date: December 1, 2003

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