Expectations of social reaction toward self as related to cognitive style and locus of control in persons with obvious and hidden physical handicaps



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The performance of visibly disabled Ss (spinal cord injury patients) was compared with that of nonvisibly disabled Ss (cardiac patients) on an embedded figures test, a binocular rivalry task, and a questionnaire which assesses one's belief regarding self as the locus of control over environmental reinforcements. The Embedded Figures Test Form V has been shown to correlate highly with passive vs. assertive social life-style. Each individual of the total sample was identified by this test as being relatively more field-dependent or more field-independent in terms of his ability to separate figure from ground. The stimuli of the binocular rivalry test consisted of stereograms depicting a smiling face and a scowling face, presented one to each eye and simulating eye-contact with S. It was assumed that S would achieve binocular resolution by perceiving in accord with his expectations of social reactions toward self. It was predicted and found that the paraplegic Ss would report seeing the negative facial expression significantly more often than the group of cardiac patients. This finding was viewed as evidence that persons with a visible disability anticipate social rejection more than persons with a hidden physical loss, presumably because of our culture's high value for physical attractiveness and ability. Comparison between the relatively more field-dependent and more field-independent paraplegics was made in terms of frequency of perception of the scowling facial expression. The results validate the prediction that cognitive style does not discriminate the visibly disabled in this regard. This result was seen to support the proposal that premorbid security in social interaction can be superseded by the negative psychosocial implications of an obvious physical loss. The relatively more field-dependent and relatively field-independent cardiac patients were also compared in their performance on the binocular rivalry task. It was found that the more field-dependent cardiacs, assumed to be more socially passive, perceived the scowling facial expression significantly more often than the field-independent cardiacs who were assumed to be more assertive in social orientation. This result was seen to imply that a hidden physical loss does not alter habitual expectations of social approval of self, presumably because of the nonapparent feature of his culturally disesteemed condition. The 1-E Scale was the questionnaire employed to assess S/s degree of belief in self as a primary influence upon personal environmental reinforcements. It was predicted that the more field-independent Ss of both diagnostic groups would express belief in an internal, self-based locus of environmental control. The more field-dependent Ss of the sample were predicted to express greater belief in an external, other-than-self locus of environmental control. These predictions were not confirmed. Comparison of the total sample in terms of 1-E Scale scores and Embedded Figures Test Form V scores revealed absence of a significant relationship. Comparison between these scores for only those Ss who were more field-dependent and also dependent upon forces other than self for environmental manipulation also revealed absence of a significant relationship. A significant relationship was found, however, between the more field-independent Ss of the total sample and belief in self as locus of environmental control. These findings were speculated to be the result of a feature of high test visibility in the 1-E Scale. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings were discussed in relation to the clinical psychologist's psychotherapeutic approach to emotional reactions following physical loss. Suggestions for further research were offered to provide support to the present findings, and research with other disability types was proposed.