Laypersons' perceptions of competence of mental health professionals : and their influence on the impressions formed of mental health professionals as expert witnesses



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This study was concerned with the effect of occupation of certain mental health professionals on impressions formed by jurors. The study was conducted in two phases. First, 198 students completed a survey on which they rated ten occupations, including four mental health occupations, concerning how competent they felt members of these occupations to be. A significant difference was found among the rankings of the four mental health occupations. The rank order of the four mental health occupations was: physician, psychiatrist, psychologist and psychoanalyst. Post-hoc comparisons indicated that all comparisons which involved physician in relation to the other three occupations were significant, while none of the comparisons which involved only psychiatrist, psychologist and psychoanalyst reached significance. Second, results of the first phase were used to formulate hypotheses for the second phase, in which subjects watched a videotaped simulation of an expert witness giving testimony and were asked to rate the witness on twelve bipolar adjective scales which composed four factors. All subjects watched the same videotape, but the witness was identified differently for different subjects in terms of the four mental health occupations listed above. It was hypothesized that subjects would have different expectancies regarding the competence of the witness based on occupational identification, and thus would rate the witness on the bipolar adjective scales in a manner consistent with the findings of the survey. A significant difference was found only between the ratings of physician and psychoanalyst on two of the factors. The data were analyzed further using Multiple Profile Analysis. The pattern of ratings on the four factors was essentially the same for the four groups. However, a significant difference was found between the average combined ratings of psychologist and psychoanalyst on the four factors. These results are discussed with respect to the reasons for the discrepancy between the results of the first and second phases of the study, as well as disagreements with findings of other studies. Suggestions are made for strengthening future research in this area.



Mental health personnel, Witnesses