Brain injury and discrimination : the effects of visibility and perceptions of dangerousness and responsibility : this thesis is submitted as a partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of doctorate of Clinical Psychology, [Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand]
The aim of the research outlined in the following pages was to examine the impact that the visible signs of brain injury and perceptions of dangerousness and responsibility have on participants’ willingness to socialise with adolescent survivors of brain injury. The research has two articles, and Article Two has two studies.
In Article One, participants were shown a picture of either an adolescent male or female, with or without a head scar, with a brief vignette advising that the adolescent had sustained a brain injury. Participants reported that others would be more willing to socialise with the adolescents with a scar, than the adolescents with no scar, and female participants reported that others would be more willing to socialise with the female adolescent, than the male adolescent.
Article Two used a similar paradigm to Article One. Study one of Article Two replicated Article One and added an additional factor, knowledge about how to interact, as a factor influencing willingness to socialise. Results showed that participants with more knowledge about how to interact with survivors were more willing to socialise, than participants with less knowledge. Study two examined whether describing the adolescents as dangerous or responsible for contributing to, or causing their brain injury, would influence willingness to socialise. Results showed strong support for a danger model, where perceptions of dangerousness were mediated by fear. When the adolescents’ were described as dangerous, fear increased and subsequent willingness to socialise decreased.
To a lesser extent, support was found for a responsibility model. Perceptions of being responsible (falling and sustaining a significant injury to the head after drinking too much alcohol) increased anger but anger in turn did not impact willingness to socialise. Being described as not responsible (as a result of a brain tumour) increased pity, but again there was no relationship between pity and willingness to socialise.
This information is useful for rehabilitation professionals assisting adolescents’ re-integration back into the community post injury. Informing survivors that people’s attitudes may change once visible signs of injury heal may be relevant when managing expectations of how others may treat them. It may also be useful to discuss how others may perceive them when they have contributed to causing their current condition or are perceived as dangerous. Finally, knowledge about how to interact may be useful for policy makers when designing campaigns to reduce discrimination.