Attitudes Toward Persons with Down Syndrome: The Impact of Television

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1 Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1999 Attitudes Toward Persons with Down Syndrome: The Impact of Television Heather Hall 1,2 and Patricia Minnes 1 This study examined the impact of different styles of television portrayal of a young adult male with Down Syndrome upon the attitudes of 92 undergraduate students. Their attitudes were considered using measures of beliefs, feelings of comfort, behavioral intentions, volunteering intentions, social desirability and variables associated with previous contact (quality and quantity of contact and media exposure). Participants were assigned to experimental conditions based on television viewing preferences. They viewed one of three programs: "Man Alive: David" (documentary), "Life Goes On" (drama), or "My So Called Life" (control). A multiple stepwise regression yielded a number of predictors of attitudes including: gender, experimental condition, quality and quantity of previous contact, prior media exposure, and social desirability. KEY WORDS: Down Syndrome; attitudes; impact of television. INTRODUCTION The influence of the media on attitudes toward persons with disabilities is potentially great. When one considers the fact that the majority of programs and films have portrayed people with disabilities in a stereotypical way, the potential for negative consequences surrounding misinformation and negative impressions is highlighted. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, for example, scarce attention was paid to the dominant images being used to portray disabled members of society in the media (Gardner and Radel, 1978). In recent years, however, these images have undergone a positive change. High functioning actors with disabilities have been fea- 1 Department of Psychology, Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario Canada. 2 Currently at Department of Psychology, Memorial University, St. John's, Newfoundland X/99/ $16.00/0 & 1999 Plenum Publishing Corporation

2 62 Hall and Minnes tured in television series such as "Life Goes On"; speciality channels like the Disability Network have been introduced and there has been increased media coverage of efforts of individuals such as Rick Hansen and Terry Fox, and most recently, Christopher Reeve. Athletes with disabilities have also claimed their rightful places in the Paralympic and Commonwealth Games. Such improvements do not suggest, however, that the entire problem has been solved. Indeed, the very limited coverage of the Paralympic Games in comparison to the extensive coverage of the Olympic Games highlights the relative lack of status attributed to persons with disabilities or to disability-related issues. According to the view that television can have an important impact on socialization, as well as having the power to reflect societal values, it is necessary to critically evaluate the messages being delivered to society concerning the disabled population (Donaldson, 1981; Elliott and Byrd, 1982; Stirling, 1991). In recent years, several researchers have adopted a multidimensional view of attitudes (Triandis, 1971). According to this model, an attitude encompasses three distinct components. The cognitive component deals with beliefs associated with information about a stimulus, the affective component takes into account the person's feelings regarding the stimulus and the cognitive component is discussed in relation to behavioral intentions directed toward the stimulus. The conative component is believed to be influenced by both the cognitive (beliefs) and affective (feelings) components. In terms of the acquisition of these components, Liebert (1975) argues that a direct influence occurs through observational learning and multiple modelling. Observational learning is comprised of stages, which include exposure, acquisition and acceptance when one person observes the behavior of another. Multiple modelling, similarly, involves observing the behaviors of others, as they are presented in a consistent manner. By incorporating these observed behaviors into their own repertoire, a person is further reinforcing the belief that these behaviors are socially acceptable and expected. With these ideas in mind, several options for interaction can be introduced in order to facilitate the promotion of positive attitudes in general. These include demonstrating that the person or group in question has equal status with the rest of "normal" society, showing co-operative interdependence between the two parties and having them actively engage together in informal situations. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ample opportunities to disprove stereotypes are needed (Donaldson, 1980). VARIABLES THAT INFLUENCE ATTITUDES TOWARD DISABLED PERSONS Throughout research conducted in recent years concerning attitudes toward persons with disabilities, several key variables believed to influence

3 Impact of Television on Attitudes 63 attitudes have emerged consistently. These include the gender of the respondent, the quantity and quality of the respondent's previous contact with persons with disabilities and the tendency to answer questions in a socially desirable manner. Gender Research findings concerning the influence of gender on attitudes toward persons with disabilities are mixed. Whereas gender differences have not emerged in a number of studies (e.g., Furnham and Pendred, 1983; Strong, 1987), the majority of research has demonstrated that females are more likely to view their disabled peers in a positive light compared to males of the same age group (Altman, 1981; Livneh, 1982; Minnes & Tsuk, 1986, Marcotte and Minnes, 1989). Contact Not unlike the ideals that spawned the Contact Hypothesis concerning the integration of African Americans in the United States (Amir, 1969), the mainstreaming movement has been based upon the assumption that more exposure to the disabled community is the key. By bringing people with and without disabilities together, it is believed that positive attitudes will naturally ensue and negative stereotypes will be reduced or eliminated (Sandier and Robinson, 1981). Studies supporting this assumption have demonstrated that both students and adults are more likely to express positive attitudes concerning their disabled peers following contact with them (e.g., Furnham and Gibbs, 1984; Minnes and Tsuk, 1986; King, Rosenbaum etai, 1989; Stirling, 1991). More recent research, however, has demonstrated that the quality of the contact also can have an important impact upon attitudes. For example, in a study with high school students, Strong (1987) reported that previous contact quality predicted beliefs, feelings and behavioral intentions. One form of contact which has received relatively little attention is the indirect contact obtained through media presentations which portray persons with disabilities. Such presentations provide opportunities for "sanctioned staring," which is thought to help reduce anxiety related to interacting with persons with disabilities (Donaldson, 1981). Social Desirability Given growing awareness of political correctness, attitudes towards those with disabilities may well be affected by socially desirable responding

4 64 Hall and Minnes (Altman, 1981; Stoval and Sedlacek, 1983). That is, any score obtained on an attitude measure may not accurately reflect the thoughts and feelings of the respondent but rather the person's perception of what is socially desirable (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). Indeed, results of studies (e.g., Strong, 1987) which have found social desirability to be a strong predictor of student attitudes toward persons with disabilities highlight the importance of including this variable in attitudinal research. MASS MEDIA INFLUENCES ON ATTITUDES TOWARD PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES In 1981, census data showed that approximately 17% of the general population could be classified as disabled. Results from a subsequent study demonstrated that during a 3-week viewing period, only 0.4% of characters featured in television programs were disabled. Furthermore, whenever such a portrayal was made, the scenes tended to focus on the disability in a negatively stereotyped manner (Donaldson, 1981). During the next decade, this situation improved considerably with the introduction of series such as "Life Goes On," "L.A. Law," and "Unreasonable Doubts." Each of these programs featured high-functioning lead actors who were either disabled themselves, or played the role of a person with a disability. According to a study conducted by Klobas in 1988, there were, on average, three disability-oriented TV shows/films aired every week. This took into account both syndicated reruns and first-run shows. In addition, the three main American networks (NBC, CBS, and ABC) also broadcast at least one program a week characterised by Klobas as "affliction dramas." Furthermore, there were normally two to three box office features a year with disability as a prominent theme. However, all three of the TV series previously mentioned were cancelled in the early 1990's and the representation of people with disabilities in the media continues to be limited. A few studies have been conducted to assess the impact of media on attitudes. For example, one reported a significant positive increase in student nurses' attitudes toward a quadriplegic patient after viewing a short, documentary-style program (Sadlick and Penta, 1975). In a later study, participants were asked to view a debate being conducted by physically disabled panel members. Those participants who viewed the discussion live or via television showed a positive increase in attitudes, as opposed to those participants who showed no such effect after hearing the debate on audiotape (Donaldson and Martinson, 1977). In two similar studies, Elliott and Byrd (1983) and Stirling (1991) were interested in the effects of various program types on attitudes toward

5 Impact of Television on Attitudes 65 disabled individuals. Elliott and Byrd used comedy and documentary-style programs to expose participants to a blind individual, whereas Stirling used drama and documentary-type programs featuring characters with Down Syndrome. Results from the former study indicated a significant positive attitude change only in the documentary group. Similar results in the Stirling study supported this finding. While the characters portrayed in the various programs were similar, the documentary programs appear to have been more effective in delivering information about blindness and Down Syndrome, and did so in a humorous but systematic manner. Since these studies were conducted, there have been changes in the way people with disabilities are viewed and portrayed. For example, there is increased integration of persons with disabilities into the community and into education systems, issues and events related to disabilities are receiving greater exposure in some sectors and the rights of individuals with disabilities have been addressed in legislation in Canada and in the United States. Research Objectives The present study was designed to extend past research concerning the impact of media presentations upon attitudes toward persons with disabilities. The research goals were to assess attitudes toward individuals with Down Syndrome portrayed in two types of television programs: a documentary and a drama. In addition, a number of possible predictors of attitudes were studied, including gender, quantity and quality of previous contact, previous media contact and social desirability. METHOD Research Participants Participants were 92 volunteers (41 males, 51 females) whose selection was based on their enrollment in a first-year Psychology course. The mean age of participants was 19.6 years (SD = 3.36). Stimuli For purposes of this study, parts of three different television programs were used. The first program, entitled "Man Alive: David," was a Canadian documentary. The second was an edited episode of the American drama

6 66 Hall and Minnes series "Life Goes On." Both the documentary and drama programs featured a young, adult male with Down Syndrome portrayed in various settings (e.g., home, school and interacting with his family and peers). In a pilot study conducted by Stirling (1991), no significant differences were found between these two particular males with Down Syndrome in terms of attractiveness, verbal ability or severity of disability. The third program, entitled "My So Called Life," was a drama that did not feature an actor with a disability. This episode, however, did feature a young man who was approximately the same age as the males featured in the previous programs, and who interacted with others in similar situations. All of the programs were in color and were approximately 25 min in length. Measures Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons Scale (Beliefs) A modified version of the Form-O scale was used (Yuker et al, 1970). The scale includes 20-items on a Likert-type scale. The 6 point scale ranges from 3 (I disagree very much) to +3 (I agree very much). Total scores on the questionnaire can range from 0 to 120. Higher scores indicate a belief that people with disabilities are much like non-disabled people and have comparable abilities and capacities. For the unmodified version of this scale, the test-retest reliabilities range from.66 to.89 (Yuker et al, 1970), and the split-half reliability has been calculated to be.75 (Antonak, 1980). For purposes of this study, minor adjustments were made to the scale in order to assess the respondents' attitudes toward people with Down Syndrome specifically. Such alterations involved replacing the phrase "disabled person/people" with "person/people with Down Syndrome." Such minor changes to the scale are said to have little effect on the reliability or validity of the scale (Yuker and Block, 1986; Graffi and Minnes, 1988). This scale was used to measure the belief (cognitive) components associated with the participants' attitudes toward persons with Down Syndrome. Feelings of Comfort Scale (Comfort) A modified version of the Comfort Scale (Marcotte and Minnes, 1989) was used. The reason for its inclusion was to assess the affective component of attitudes (i.e., the level of comfort experienced in various situations with a person with Down Syndrome). This 10-item scale considers 10 different activities and utilizes a 5-point Likert-type scale. The scale ranges from 1

7 Impact of Television on Attitudes 67 (uncomfortable) to 5 (comfortable), with total scores ranging from 10 to 50. A higher score indicates a greater sense of comfort in engaging in the specified activities with a person with Down Syndrome. Modifications to the scale included replacing the name "Chris" with the phrase "a young adult with Down Syndrome." This change was deemed necessary, as the scale's original intent was to measure attitudes toward people with physical disabilities. The item "How comfortable would you feel if Chris were driving and you were in the car?" was replaced with "How comfortable would you feel sitting next to a young adult with Down Syndrome on a bus?" The item "How comfortable would you feel listening to records with Chris?" was replaced with "How comfortable would you feel listening to CD's with a young adult with Down Syndrome?" (Stirling, 1991). Volunteering Intentions Scale (Volunteering) This scale was used to assess behavioral intentions (i.e., volunteering with people who are disabled). According to a fictitious letter, an organization was in the process of setting up a training program for developmentally disabled adults in the area. The program's aim was to help these individuals acquire the skills needed in order to live independent lives. The letter requested information from the respondents regarding their interest in volunteering time with the program and how many hours a week they would be willing to commit. Interested volunteers were told that they could leave their name and phone number with the experimenter at the completion of the session. This approach provides a more realistic method of assessing behavioral intentions, as it does not merely require the respondent to complete a questionnaire based on behaviors that he/she would never actually have to perform (Gottlieb and Gottlieb, 1977; Wisely and Morgan, 1981; Stirling, 1991). At the end of the session, all questionnaires were collected and participants were debriefed. Participants were informed that the letter contained in their questionnaire packages was fictitious and any questions arising were addressed. In the event that any of the participants had wished to pursue a volunteering placement, a list of organizations and contacts was made available to them. Jackson Social Desirability Scale Form E/F (Jackson, 1974) of this scale was used. It is a 16-item, truefalse scale comprised of personality statements which are scored as either 0 (true) or 1 (false). Possible scores for the scale range from 0 to 16, with

8 68 Hall and Minnes higher scores indicating a tendency for the subject to respond in a socially desirable manner. Odd-even reliabilities for the scale are reported to range from.63 to.82 for college students (Jackson, 1974). Contact Questionnaire A Contact Questionnaire was utilized to assess the nature and extent of any previous contact with people with disabilities. Items included questions regarding the type of disability, the type of relationship, the frequency and quality of their contact. Respondents were also asked how often they had seen the television programs "Life Goes On" and/or "Man Alive: David." The responses obtained on the scale were used as measures of quality and quantity of contact, as well as to determine the extent of previous media contact. Television Viewing Scale (TV) This scale was designed to assess the type(s) of program(s) that the respondents watched in general. Three types of programs were considered: documentary, drama and comedy. Frequency of viewing was assessed by rating 30 different shows (10 of each type) on a 4-point, Likert-type scale. The scale ranges from 1 (never) to 4 (regularly). Total possible scores for each of the program types ranges from 10 to 40. Design and Procedure Participants were obtained through a subject pool of first year Psychology students. In order to explore possible order effects, participants took part in one of two possible testing procedures: A1 or A2. In the first procedure (A1), participants received an information and consent form which stated that they would be filling out several questionnaires regarding their experiences with persons with disabilities. Participants were reassured as to the confidentiality and anonymity of their responses and were required to use a code name on all further submissions. Questionnaires were handed out to each subject and were completed in the order given. In the first procedure (A1), participants were required to complete the consent form, TV Viewing form and Jackson Social Desirability Scale. They were then assigned to their experimental groups based on the scores they obtained on the TV Viewing Scale. The information ob-

9 Impact of Television on Attitudes 69 tained from the TV Scale regarding preferences made it possible to insure an even distribution of program preferences amongst the three experimental conditions (i.e., not all of the participants who prefer to watch dramas will be in the drama group). The second part of the session was held in three separate rooms. The first experimental group (documentary) viewed "Man Alive: David," the second experimental group (drama) viewed "Life Goes On," and the control group viewed "My So Called Life." After viewing the program, participants completed the Attitudes Scale, Comfort Scale and the Volunteering Intentions Scale and Letter. At the end of the session, all questionnaires were collected and participants, as previously noted, were debriefed. Following a brief question period, participants, as previously noted, were also informed that the letter contained in their questionnaire packages was fictitious. In the event that any of the participants had wished to pursue a volunteering placement, a list of organizations and contacts was made available to them. All participants were thanked for their participation. Participants in the second procedure (A2) session followed the first procedure, with the exception that they completed the Volunteering Intentions Scale/Letter first. RESULTS Preliminary Analyses Internal Consistency A Cronbach's Alpha Coefficient was calculated for the Attitude Scale, Comfort Scale, and Jackson Social Desirability Scale. Results demonstrated that internal consistency was acceptable for all scales (alpha > 0.65). Moreover, all coefficients were consistent with those reported in previous studies (Jackson, 1984; Marcotte and Minnes, 1989; Yuker et al., 1970). Distribution of Data Results suggested that respondents expressed moderately positive attitudes about individuals with Down Syndrome in general, as measured by the Attitudes Scale. A moderately high degree of comfort toward referents was expressed, as were moderately high social desirability tendencies in responding to the questionnaires. Moderately high behavioral intentions were expressed according to the Volunteering Scales. Results from the

10 70 Hall and Minnes Contact subscales indicate moderate amounts of previous contact with persons with disabilities, a moderately positive quality rating regarding these contacts and low previous exposure to media events featuring disabled individuals (see Table I). In order to meet the assumptions of homogeneity of variance and normality for further analyses, a log transformation was performed on the negatively skewed Comfort Scale data. Order and Demand Effects A series of t-tests was performed to determine the effect of questionnaire order on responses. No significant differences were found between those packages that featured the Volunteering Scale first and those that featured it at the end. Regression Analyses Three multiple regression analyses were conducted to determine possible predictors of beliefs, feelings of comfort and behavioural intentions. In each analysis, seven potential predictor variables were included in the regression equation. These included: gender, quantity of contact, quality of contact, media contact and social desirability. Two additional categorical variables representing type of media presentation were included using dummy coding: Comparison 1 (C1) (Documentary and Drama vs. Control) Scale ATDP COMF VOL JSD QUAN QUAL MEDIA Table I. Summary of Mean Scores Obtained on Measure Range Overall Mean (N = 92) Documentary (N = 31) Experimental Group Drama (N = 31) Control (N = 30) Note. ATDP = Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons Scale; COMF = Comfort Scale; VOL = Volunteering Intentions; JSD = Jackson Social Desirability Scale; QUAN = Quantity of Previous Contact; QUAL = Quality of Previous Contact; MEDIA = Prior Media Contact.

11 Impact of Television on Attitudes 71 and Comparison 2 (C2) (Documentary vs. Drama). Results of these analyses are outlined in Table II. Predictors of Beliefs (Beliefs Scale) A stepwise multiple regression was first performed with the Beliefs Scale as the criterion variable. The results showed that prior media exposure, quality of contact and social desirability were significant predictors of beliefs. These predictors accounted for 20%, 10% and 7% of the variance in beliefs respectively. The results suggest that more previous media exposure, more positive quality of previous contact and social desirability were positively correlated with general beliefs concerning people with Down Syndrome. Predictors of Affect (Comfort Scale) According to regression results, participants in the Documentary group had more positive affect than those in the Drama group. This predictor accounted for 6% of the total variance. This indicates that those who had watched "Man Alive: David" reported feeling more comfortable being in a situation or engaging in an activity with a person who has Down Syndrome, than those in the Drama condition who watched "Life Goes On." Predictors of Behavioral Intentions (Volunteering Scale) Significant predictors emerging from this regression were Type of Media Presentation: Comparison 1 (Documentary versus Drama), Quality of Scale ATDP COMF VOL Table II. Summary of Stepwise Regression Analyses: Predictors of Attitudes Pred MEDIA QUAL SD C2 C2 QUAL C SE B Beta Mult R R F P.001***.001**.001**.050*.001**.001**.001** Note. ATDP = Attitude Toward Disabled Persons Scale; COMF = Comfort Scale; VOL = Volunteering Intentions; MEDIA = Prior Media Contact; QUAL = Quality of Contact; SD = Social Desirability; C1 = (Documentary and Drama) vs Control; C2 = Documentary vs Drama. *p <.05; **p <.01.

12 72 Hall and Minnes Previous Contact, Type of Media Presentation: Comparison 2 (Experimental versus Control). These results accounted for 17%, 6% and 6% of the variance respectively. This analysis suggests that participants who had viewed "Man Alive: David," and those who reported having positive experiences with individuals with Down Syndrome in the past, were more likely to express intentions to pursue a volunteer placement in a setting with other people with Down Syndrome than those in the control group. DISCUSSION Past research (Elliot and Byrd, 1983) concerning the impact of various types of programs upon attitudes towards persons with disabilities has indicated that greater positive attitude change was found in individuals exposed to documentary as opposed to dramatic and comedy presentations. However, it is unclear which components of attitudes were being measured by Elliot and Byrd. In this study, three different components of attitudes (i.e., beliefs, feelings and behavioral intentions) were measured. Predictors of Attitudes (a) Type of Media Presentation. The results indicate that while the type of media presentation did not predict beliefs concerning a person with Down Syndrome, greater feelings of comfort were significantly correlated with viewing the documentary as opposed to the drama or control programs. In contrast to the results of the previous two regression analyses, both types of media presentation (C1 and C2) emerged as significant predictors of behavioral intentions. That is, although greater willingness to volunteer was reported by individuals who saw either the documentary or drama programs featuring a person with Down Syndrome, those viewing the documentary expressed the greatest willingness to volunteer. Given that both the experimental types of presentation (documentary and drama) emerged as significant predictors of volunteering intentions, it is helpful to consider a number of factors which may contribute to the promotion of positive attitudes (Donaldson, 1980). These include demonstrating that the person or group in question has equal status with the rest of "normal" society, showing co-operative interdependence between two parties, having them actively engage together in informal situations and perhaps most importantly, providing opportunities to disprove stereotypes. In this study, the experimental programs (documentary and drama) portrayed people with Down Syndrome as being at least equal to others in

13 Impact of Television on Attitudes 73 the program. Furthermore, both David in the documentary program and Corky in the drama were seen as active participants in everyday activities with families and friends (co-operative interdependence). The high level of independence demonstrated by David and Corky in these scenes would presumably also help to overcome negative stereotypes of persons with disabilities. The results of this study, therefore, provide additional support for the impact of such factors at least in terms of behavioral intentions. The results of this study also illustrate the differential effects of various types of media presentations upon feelings of comfort and behavioral intentions. That is, greater feelings of comfort and more willingness to volunteer were expressed by individuals viewing the documentary as opposed to the drama. These findings may be related to a number of factors discussed by Triandis (1971). These include: the power or authority of the source of information (i.e., the person presenting), his/her credibility and the amount and type of information he or she provides. In terms of the power and credibility of the presenter, the documentary program used in this study was hosted by Roy Bonisteel, a well-known Canadian journalist, who took on the role of advocate for persons with Down Syndrome. Furthermore, David McFarlane, a person with Down Syndrome, took on the role of educator and "spokesperson." In this study, the finding that fewer feelings of comfort and less willingness to volunteer were expressed by those viewing the drama program may be attributed to the fact that Corky, the character with Down Syndrome in "Life Goes On," was not portrayed in the role of presenter and he did not speak about Down Syndrome directly. While both the documentary and drama programs provided information about Down Syndrome, the way in which this information was presented differed. Both the drama and documentary programs presented information indirectly by portraying persons with Down Syndrome interacting with other characters, (e.g., playing basketball and skating in the documentary program; eating a meal and working on a group project in the dramatic program). However, the documentary program also provided the viewer with direct information regarding various aspects of Down Syndrome including its causes, characteristics and the potential of individuals with the Syndrome. Although one could argue that in both programs appropriate ways of interacting with a person with Down Syndrome were modelled, the results of this study suggest that the greater the amount of direct information provided, the more likely the viewer is to express more feelings of comfort and a greater willingness to volunteer. (b) Nature of Contact (Quantity, Quality and Media). The importance of contact in relation to attitudes toward persons with disabilities in general, and persons with Down Syndrome in particular has been considered in past research. Furthermore, the importance of measuring the quality as

14 74 Hall and Minnes well as the quantity of contact has been emphasised (Furnham and Gibbs, 1984; Stirling, 1991). While the trend toward community integration of persons with disabilities has provided increasing opportunities for direct contact with persons with disabilities, increasing media coverage of issues related to disability and the introduction of programs featuring persons with disabilities have provided new opportunities for indirect contact. In this study, the quantity and quality of direct contact and previous media contact with persons with disabilities was measured. Whereas quantity of contact did not emerge as a significant predictor of beliefs, feelings or behavioral intentions, quality of contact emerged as a significant predictor of beliefs and behavioral intentions. Moreover, previous media contact was a significant predictor of beliefs. The results of this study support past research which has suggested that more positive attitudes toward persons with disabilities are associated with knowing a disabled person and having had positive experiences with that person in the past (Furnham and Gibbs, 1984). In this study, a number of the items on the Beliefs Scale addressed issues related to the merits of integrating persons with Down Syndrome into the community and into the educational mainstream (e.g., "There should not be special schools for persons with Down Syndrome" and "It would be best for persons with Down Syndrome to work and live in special communities"). The results suggest that participants who have had positive past experiences with persons with Down Syndrome would believe that these individuals do not belong in special school, work or living environments. Similarly, positive past experiences with persons with Down Syndrome may also promote willingness to participate as a volunteer. Media, as a form of contact, while a strong predictor of beliefs, was not found to be associated with feelings of comfort or behavioral intentions. Given that the majority of media presentations regarding persons with disabilities in recent years have tended to promote issues such as community and educational integration and human rights, individuals with past media contact would likely have been exposed to such philosophies and, as discussed earlier, would be more likely to express more positive beliefs. (c) Social Desirability. A final factor contributing to attitudes toward persons with disabilities is social desirability. The results of this study support previous findings (Altman, 1981; Strong, 1987), such that social desirability emerged as a significant predictor of beliefs. Furthermore, the failure of social desirability to emerge as predictor of feelings of comfort and behavioral intentions is consistent with the results reported by Marcotte and Minnes (1987) and Stirling (1991). Although the percentage of variance accounted for by social desirability in this study was only 7%, its inclusion

15 Impact of Television on Attitudes 75 in future studies may be warranted, given increasing awareness of disabilityrelated issues. Conclusions and Directions for Future Research The results of this study provide evidence of the potential influence of television on attitude change. With the increasing number of television programs addressing disability issues today, it would appear to be an important focus for future research. Not unlike the Stirling (1991) study, the present study adopted a multi-dimensional model of attitudes and utilized various attitude measures. Unlike previous studies that have measured beliefs alone (Elliott & Byrd, 1983, 1984a, 1984b), this study found significant results not only concerning beliefs about persons with Down Syndrome, but also concerning feelings of comfort and behavioral intentions. Given the relatively limited percentage of variance accounted for in the regression analyses, further studies are needed to incorporate additional potentially influential variables such as education, socio-economic status, parental attitudes and previous family or school contact. Finally, when questioning participants as to their past experience with persons with disabilities, it would be wise to ask how recently the contact occurred. REFERENCES Altman, B. M. (1981). Studies of attitudes toward the handicapped: The need for a new direction. Social Probl. 28(3): Amir, V. (1969). Contact hypothesis in ethnic relations. Psychological Bull. 71: Antonak, R. (1980). Psychometric analysis of the Attitudes Toward Disabled Persons Scale, Form O. Rehab. Counsel. Bull. 23: Donaldson, J. (1980). Changing attitudes toward handicapped peers: A review and analysis of research. Except. Child. 46(7): Donaldson, J. (1981). The visibility and image of handicapped people on television. Except. Child. 47(6): Donaldson, J., and Martinson, M. C. (1977). Modifying attitudes toward physically disabled persons. Except. Child. 43: Elliott, T. R., and Byrd, E. K. (1982). Media and disability. Rehab. Lit. 43(11-12): Elliott, T. R., and Byrd, E. K. (1983). Attitude change toward disability through television portrayal. J. Appl. Rehab. Counsel. 14(2): Elliott, T. R., and Byrd, E. K. (1984a). Video depictions of blindness and attitudes toward disability. J. Rehab. 50(1): Elliott, T. R., and Byrd, E. K. (1984b). Attitude change toward disability through television: Portrayal with male college students. Int. J. Rehab. Res. 7(3): Fishbein, M., and Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, Attitude, Intention and Behavior, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA. Furnham, A., and Gibbs, M. (1984). School children's attitudes towards the handicapped. J. Adol. 7:

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