When are the disabled held responsible for an accident ? A test of defensive attribution theory

This study atempts to assess the relationship between stimulus person similarity and attribution of responsibility. It was hypothesized that where both high stimulus person similarity to the perpetrator of a negative accident and high situational relevance for the subject exists there would be significantly less attribution of responsibility to the perpetrator of the accident (defensive attribution). Similarly, where low stimulus person similarity to the perpetrator of a negative accident exists there would be more attribution of responsibility. Ss were disabled (wheelchair bound or hard of hearing) or non-disabled males. The Ss Here given a booklet which contained the stimulus page, and an attitude questionnaire. The study conforms to a 3 x 3 factorial design with three levels of subject characteristics and three levels of stimulus person similarity 16 dependent variables were measured including crucial one of responsibility measured in two ways. One method of measurement was a direct question, "To what extent is Tom responsible for what happened to the bystanders?" The other method was an open--ended question, "If you thought Tom was responsible, please explain why." Results do not support hypotheses derived from defensive attribution theory. In fact, the opposite pattern emerged. The results indicated that in a severe accident Ss were most harsh on the driver who was most similar to themselves. Alternative explanations for the experimental results were discussed.