Background This study was designed to test the hypothesis that carer attributions for aggressive behaviour vary according to a service user's severity of intellectual disability.
Methods Forty-two residential care staff participated in an investigation examining the effects of the level of a service user's intellectual disability on causal attributions for their aggressive behaviour. Equal numbers of participants were assigned to either a ‘mild disability’ or a ‘severe disability’ condition and required to read a vignette depicting a service user with aggressive challenging behaviour. The service user's cognitive abilities were experimentally manipulated across conditions, whilst the behaviour described remained unchanged. Participants were required to make attributions along Weiner's (1980) dimensions of locus, stability and controllability, and in accordance with five prominent models of challenging behaviour (Hastings 1997b).
Results The service user depicted in the mild disabilities condition was perceived to have significantly greater control over factors causing the aggressive behaviour than the service user in the severe disabilities condition. Participants in the severe disabilities condition considered the aggression to be significantly more challenging. Learned behaviour and emotional causal models of aggressive behaviour were favoured, whilst the physical environment account was seen as least appropriate. Additionally, the biomedical model was rated as significantly more applicable in the severe disability condition than in the mild disability condition.
Conclusions Implications for staff and service users are discussed. In particular, the relationship between staff causal attributions for challenging behaviour, their emotional responses and willingness to engage in helping behaviour is explored.