The Role Of Race In Judgements Of Dangerousness, Mental Disorder, And Need For Hospitalization

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




The major purpose of this study was to investigate the relationships between the racial identifications of persons significant in the judicial process of psychiatric commitment and judgements of Dangerousness, Mental Illness, and Necessity of Hospitalization. This research examined the effects of race of the accused assailant, victim, expert witness, and rater on these critical judgements. The relationships between these judgements were assessed and the levels of confidence associated with each was obtained.An experimental analogue procedure was employed in which each of the 173 junior college raters judged the Dangerousness, Mental Illness, and Necessity for Hospitalization of an individual whose psychological report they read. All of the participants in the study were American-born males, 87 were black and 86 were white. Each subject read a psychological report describing an individual accused of assaulting another person. The race of the accused assailant and the expert were manipulated through the use of photographs. The race of the victim was stated in the psychological report. Raters were randomly assigned to cells within limitation of the 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 factorial design.Two personality variables, which previous research indicated to be associated with judgements of Dangerousness, were assessed in the present study. Racial prejudice and Dogmatism (as developed in Rokeach's theory) were measured via psychometric inventories. Predicted relationships that Dogmatism scores would be positively associated with ratings of Dangerousness, Mental Illness, and Necessity of Hospitalization were not found. However, Dogmatism scores were significantly correlated with confidence levels for two of the ratings and with measures of racial prejudice. It was also found that subjects high in Dogmatism rated black assailants as significantly more Mentally Ill than white assailants.As predicted, measures of Racial Prejudice were significantly positively correlated with judgements of Dangerousness, Mental Illness and Necessity of Hospitalization.The prediction that white subjects would give higher ratings of pathology to black assailants compared to white assailants was not confirmed, except for those high in Dogmatism as previously mentioned. The prediction that black subjects would display more pro-black sentiments in their judgements was not found.It was predicted that each psychologist would be rated as more accurate when reporting on a client of his own race. This hypothesis was disconfirmed.Subjects' mean overall ratings of confidence in their judgements were below the 75 percent level as predicted. However, white subjects exceeded this level for two of the judgements. The present findings were discussed with respect to previous research and new developments in the procedures and criteria involved in the civil commitment process. Additionally, Attribution theory was proposed as an appropriate theoretical framework for this area of research. More specifically, Weiner's attribution model was viewed as being particularly well-suited for use in this type of study.


Psychology, Clinical

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