Sunday, January 4, 2015

Attitude Formation Toward Persons with Disabilities

Attitude Theory and Formation
A number of social psychological attitude theories can be cited to describe how attitudes towards persons with disabilities develop and how they change. These theories can be studied to describe both the development and change of attitudes. In this study, various theories were ascribed to explain the formation of attitudes toward persons with disabilities.
Attitude formation and how people come to evaluate objects in the environment positively and negatively, is a long standing issue in social psychology (Olson and Fazio, 2001). Ajzen (2001) however reviewed that there is a general agreement that attitudes represent a summary evaluation of a psychological object.  These can either be positive or negative, harmful or beneficial, pleasant or unpleasant, favorable or unfavorable evaluations or beliefs held about an object, people or event and are composed of cognitive, affective and behavioral components.
          The cognitive component represents what people know or believe about the attitude object; the affective component is made up of feelings that the object produces; and the behavioral component is a predisposition to act toward the object in a particular way (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975; Nairne, 2003; Judge and Robbin, 2007). For instance, in studying negative attitudes toward groups such as persons with disabilities, social psychologists often distinguish between negative stereotypes (negative beliefs and perceptions about a group) as the cognitive component; prejudice (negative feelings toward the group) the affective component; and discrimination (negative action against member of the group) the behavioral component. 
          Specifically, Leatherman and Niemeyer (2005) exemplified the interaction of triadic model of attitudes among teachers. They suggest that teachers form attitudes towards children with disabilities, and ultimately towards inclusion, based on a child’s characteristics, the factors in the classroom and their previous experiences.  The cognitive component refers to knowledge and beliefs about the causes of behavior of children with disabilities in an inclusive setting. The affective component is based on the cognitive understanding of disability or persons with disability, which can motivate people to get involved in working with a child with disability, or generate feeling that could cause them to exclude a child with disability from typical activities. The behavioral component deals with a tendency to behave or respond in a particular way when in contact with children who have disabilities (e.g. move farther away from the child).
          Some theorists however prefer to define an attitude as only the cognitive and affective component, while other only the affective component. The behavioral component is assumed to be influenced by both the cognitive and the affective components (Walker, 2008). Nonetheless, all share a consensus about attitudes as the interrelationship among pertinent beliefs, feelings and behavior (Nolen-Hoeksema, et al, 2009).
According to Leutar and Raič (2008), understanding the role of attitudes in the process of human adaptation is significant as they can be shaped and changed. They influence not only behavior but including the cognitive processes: perception; memory; and thinking.
Leonard and Crawford (1989), presented a two-level of theory of attitudes toward persons with disabilities (as cited in Gething, 1994). According to this theory, attitudes toward persons with disabilities are in two forms: societal level which relates to treatment of persons with disabilities as a group, and personal level which relates to personal interaction. Attitudes at the societal level relate to issues such as provision of goods and services, education employment, etc. These denote prevalent beliefs espoused by and influenced by the society (e.g. governments, cultural orientation, historical background, or other prevailing conditions). On the other hand, attitudes on the personal level are more directly related to personal experience and include ease in social interaction, judging attributes of the person as distinct from the disability, and degree of comfort interacting with person with disability. Attitudes at the social level signify the cognitive, while those at the personal level indicate the affective component of attitudes (Pedi- sić, 2000,in Leutar and Raič, 2008).
 Societal attitudes tend to be more remote and do not necessarily have congruence with personal ones. This remoteness causes differences between the two (Daruwalla and Darcy, 2005). An illustration of this discrepancy lies in the statement by Gething (1994) that avers: “People with disabilities should be able to live in the community, but not next door to me”.
 Societal attitudes still may impact personal attitudes toward persons with disabilities since attitudes are socially learned, socially expressed, and socially changed (Smith and Hogg, 2008). Attitudes are personal dispositions but at the same time a societal product. They always have a social reference. They have their basis in social communication and learning, which are shared with other members of the group or community (Dalal, 2006).
The most primary illustrations are behaviorist learning theories which stipulate that attitudes can be (classically or operantly) conditioned through experience (Nairne, 2003). In classical conditioning, a conditioned stimulus (CS) precedes an unconditioned stimulus (US). This CS-US arrangement eventually leads to a conditioned response or attitude change after sufficient repetitions (Erwing et al, 2008). This implies that when initially neutral social stimuli are paired constantly with positive or negative stimuli, subjects will develop positive or negative attitudes toward the previously neutral stimulus. For example, attitudes towards persons with disabilities can be conditioned by culture and how the public views or treats persons with disabilities. If a child is exposed to the society’s idea that persons with disabilities are dirty, stupid, pathetic, aggressive, useless, and the like, he will convey these negative adjectives to negative attitudes toward persons with disabilities. These begin to emerge early in the process of development, wherein children already categorize people with or without disabilities and prefer those without disabilities (Krahe and Altwasser, 2005). Moreover, these attitudes can be further strengthened through reinforcements most especially from significant others. For instance, if a parent rewards the child for showing respect or helping a person with disability, this may allow favorable attitudes toward persons with disabilities.
Bandura’s Social Learning Theory also emphasizes that attitudes are emulated from models. People can acquire new attitudes vicariously by observing and imitating other people’s actions (Forsyth, 2007). Observational learning plays a critical role, like when children imitate attitudes of parents, other adults and peers toward members of various groups like persons with disabilities (Feldman, 2008). If an individual sees someone, for instance, his mother talk to a person with disability in a respectful and acceptable way, s/he can display the same behavior by modeling her. Particularly, the media greatly influences attitude formation toward persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are portrayed as sick, suffering, looking for help and having special needs (Ruffner, 1990, in Krahe and Altwasser, 2005).Their portrayal of persons with disabilities and related issues can inculcate stereotypical views and misconceptions.
Tajfel and Turner’s Social Identity Theory focuses on the impact of group membership to one’s attitudes. It implies that people concern themselves with categorizing in-groups or out-groups (Myers, 2005). Group membership serves as the source of pride and self-worth. To maximize one’s self-esteem, people assign more favorable features to one’s own group than to other groups. People come to view members of out-groups as inferior to members of in-group (Myers, 2005; Feldman, 2008; McShane and Glinow, 2008).
Once individuals identify with their group, and start to think in terms of “we” and “us”, they also begin to recognize “them” and “they”. They tend to exaggerate the difference between their group and other group. They develop ingroup-outgroup bias, or the tendency to view and stress the relative superiority of their own groups to other groups (Frosyth, 2007).
Forsyth (2007) added that groups may just be collection of individuals but these collections shape the society. They have a deep impact on individuals as they mold actions, thoughts and feelings. They can change their members by prompting them to change their attitudes and values as they come to agree with the overall consensus of the group. With this, attitudes are socially structured and guarded in social consensus defined by group membership. In some societies, attitudes are pressures towards uniformity and are closely related with group goals or group identity (Dalal, 2006). Since individuals who identify with a group take on more and more of the typical features of the member of that group, they adapt the attitudinal preferences and behavior that characterize the group as well.

  In the case of persons with disabilities, attitudes towards them are shaped according to their social categorization.  Members of the nondisabled group majority tend to maintain a certain social distance and treating them as outsiders based solely on being different and being “non-abled” (Mishra, 2002; Bedini, 1992). From a historical and sociological point of view, the majority group of the nondisabled people maintained the ableist perspective, which implies having disability is negative and as much as possible, be treated, cured or even eliminated. This results to negative attitudes of the society toward persons with disabilities (Campbell, 2008).

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