SOCIAL INTERACTIONS OF CHILDREN WITH AND WITHOUT MENTAL
Expectations and social interactions of
children with and without mental retardation.
SOCIAL interaction in children; CHILDREN
-- Social conditions; MENTALLY handicapped children --
Journal of Special Education, Winter91,
Vol. 24 Issue 4, p454, 19p, 2 charts
Miller, Carol T.; Clarke, Richard T.
Investigates the expectations and social
interactions of children with and without mental
retardation. Impact of integration on the
social status of mentally retarded children; Influence
of the social skills of children on their social
relationship; Analysis of perceivers' ratings of their
telephone partners on the index of stigmatizing social
Academic Search Elite
retarded and nonretarded perceiver children (n = 40) conversed
by telephone with a child who was described as a special
or regular education student. Perceivers
reported that special and regular education
telephone partners behaved differently during the conversation
even though observers who were unaware of how telephone
partners had been described did not detect behavioral
differences between them. These same observers did detect
differences in stereotype related social behaviors of mentally
retarded and nonretarded perceivers, but only when perceivers
thought they were speaking to a regular education
student. Observer ratings also suggested that nonretarded
perceivers "talked down" to special education
telephone partners. These results suggest that stereotypes
about children with and without learning problems may become
self-fulfilling prophecies by altering how children treat one
another and by affecting how they interpret each other's
development in understanding children's educational
experiences is the discovery of the Pygmalion effect
(Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). The finding that teachers'
expectations could affect children's academic performance
stimulated vast amounts of research aimed at establishing (or
challenging) the replicability and generalizability of this
phenomenon and identifying the variables that mediate it
(Braun, 1976; Brophy & Good, 1974; Dusek & Joseph,
1985; Harris & Rosenthal, 1985; Jussim, 1986; Miller &
researchers realized that self-fulfilling prophecies might be
important in situations far removed from teacher-student
classroom interactions. These researchers began to show how
expectations about self and others could dramatically affect
the course and outcome of adult social interactions in
nonacademic settings. Expectancy confirmation has since become
a core concept in several major theoretical analyses of social
interaction (Darley & Fazio, 1980; Deaux & Major,
1987; Miller & Turnbull, 1986; Swann, 1984).
A major premise
of these analyses is that expectations can become
self-fulfilling prophecies because they affect how people
interpret, remember, and behave toward the targets of these
expectations who, by responding in kind, often confirm the
expectations. This has been demonstrated in several
well-controlled laboratory experiments in which, for example,
people who were expected by another to be hostile (Snyder
& Swann, 1978a), friendly (Cristensen & Rosenthal,
1982; Curtis & Miller, 1986; Farina, Allen, & Saul,
1968), introverted, or extroverted (Fazio, Effrein, &
Falender, 1981; Snyder & Swann, 1978b) responded to the
treatment they received in ways that confirmed these
often have been manipulated by identifying a person as a
member of a stereotyped group. For example, Snyder, Tanke, and
Berscheid (1977) led college men to believe that they would
have a telephone conversation with a physically attractive or
unattractive woman. Because of widespread prejudice against
unattractive women (Adams, 1977; Berscheid & Walster,
1974; Patzer, 1985), Snyder et al. predicted and found that
the men who thought they spoke to attractive woman were more
friendly and sociable (according to naive observers who
listened to recordings of the conversation) than were men who
thought they spoke to unattractive women. Moreover, even
though the target women actually did not differ in
attractiveness, observers' ratings indicated that the women's
behavior during the conversation differed in accord with the
men's expectations. Similar results have been obtained in
studies of the self-fulfilling nature of college students'
expectations about blacks, women, and homosexuals (e.g., Kite
& Deaux, 1986; Skrypnek & Snyder, 1982; Word, Zanna,
& Cooper, 1974).
demonstrations of the power stereotype-based expectations have
in the social interactions of adults with their peers suggest
that expectancy confirmation might also be important in
children's social interactions with their peers. Recognition
of this possibility is particularly important in understanding
social relationships between mentally retarded and nonretarded
children. In recent years the philosophy that mentally
retarded people function best when integrated as completely as
possible with nonretarded people has resulted in legislative
mandates to integrate, or mainstream, mentally retarded
children with nonretarded children in regular education
classes (Fielder & Simpson, 1987). Although the major goal
of mainstreaming is to improve the academic opportunities of
retarded students, its proponents also hoped that increased
contact between mentally retarded and nonretarded students
would increase the acceptance of retarded students by their
nonretarded peers (Birch, 1974; Exposito & Reed, 1986;
Fisher & Rizzo, 1974; Sheare, 1974).
indicates, however, that integration with nonretarded students
often fails to improve the social status of mentally retarded
students (see Gresham, 1982; Ottensbacher & Cooper, 1984,
for reviews) and may even result in greater rejection of them
by nonretarded students (Corman & Gottlieb, 1978; J.
Gottlieb, Semmel, & Veldman, 1978; Gresham, 1982).
Although not usually phrased in terms of a self-fulfilling
prophecy, it is commonly assumed that some of the problems
faced by mainstreamed mentally retarded children in their
social relationships with nonretarded peers stem from negative
stereotypes about retarded children. These stereotypes may
lead other students to ignore or reject children with mental
researchers have long been aware that stereotypes about
retarded children might affect how nonretarded children treat
them, there is surprisingly little research on this topic.
Previous research typically has focused on documenting the
existence of stereotyped expectations about retarded children,
examining how these beliefs influence judgments and
attributions about retarded children, and determining what
effects increased contact with retarded children has on
nonretarded children's attitudes and stereotypes (Corman &
Gottlieb, 1978; J. Gottlieb, 1975; Siperstein & Bak,
1986). A limitation of such research is that it examines what
children say and not what they do. Recognizing this problem,
some researchers have attempted to investigate social behavior
by assessing nonretarded children's preference for interacting
with retarded versus nonretarded children (Aloia, Beaver,
& Pettus, 1978; Bak & Siperstein, 1987; J. Gottlieb
& Davis, 1973). However, because the interaction about
which preferences were expressed did not actually occur, these
studies do not capture the spontaneity, richness, and
reciprocal nature of nonretarded children's social behavior
toward children with mental retardation.
attention has been given to the possibility that the
self-fulfilling nature of stereotypes also could produce
observable effects on the behavior of mentally retarded
children. This is because most research on the social behavior
of children with mental retardation
focuses on identifying deficits in their social skills or
other behavioral problems that alienate their nonretarded
peers a Gottlieb et al., 1978; Gresham, 1982, 1984). Although
this research often is flawed by the failure to realize that
reports about the behavior of mentally retarded students-
particularly reports made by untrained observers such as
teachers and nonretarded classmates--may be biased by
stereotypes, most available evidence suggests that mentally
retarded children have less well-developed social skills than
their nonretarded peers (Gampel, Gottlieb, & Harrison,
1974; J. Gottlieb et al., 1978; Gresham, 1982, 1984; Kitano,
Stiehl, & Cole, 1978; Mundy, Sigman, Kasari, & Yirmiya,
1988; Peters, Pumphrey, & Flax, 1974; Taylor, Asher, &
Williams, 1987). The existence of this difference often is
interpreted as evidence that the social relationships of
mentally retarded children can best be improved by social
skills training (Davies & Rogers, 1985; Gresham, 1982,
1984; Strain & Odom, 1986).
skills of retarded children may partially explain their poor
social relationships, but ignoring the effects of stereotypes
on both their own and nonretarded children's behavior runs the
risk of blaming the victims of stereotyping for their
rejection by others. Even armed with the best of social
skills, mentally retarded children might be ill equipped to
deal with the social situations that con. front them. Because
of prevailing stereotypes, nonretarded children may behave in
a relatively unfriendly, or perhaps patronizing, fashion
toward retarded children (Gibbons, 1981). Mentally retarded
children may respond to such treatment by confirming the
expectations others have about them. Moreover, because
mentally retarded children are aware of what others expect of
them and also know how they have been treated in the past,
their own expectations may discourage them from behaving in a
socially appropriate manner, even if they have the skills to
do so. Thus, the anticipation of rejection might inadvertently
We adapted the
methodology used by Snyder et al. (1977) to see how the
expectations of both mentally retarded and nonretarded
perceiver children would affect their behavior during a brief
telephone conversation with a target child who was described
as being in special education or
regular education classes. Perceivers'
expectations about their telephone partners were assessed
before the conversation began and after it was over. Audiotape
recordings of the conversation were later evaluated by
teacher, peer, and college student observers to determine how
students' expectations affected their own and their telephone
partners' behavior during the conversation.
prediction was that mentally retarded and nonretarded children
would behave differently toward telephone partners described
as having learning problems than toward partners not so
described. In particular, previous research has shown that
nonretarded children may be overly lenient or patronizing
toward retarded children (Crosby, Bromley, & Saxe, 1980;
Jones et al., 1984; Katz, 1981), and that people often use
"baby talk" when addressing people with mental
retardation (DePaulo & Coleman, 1986). Such
behaviors roughly correspond to children's stereotypes about
what nonretarded children are like (Miller et al., 1989).
Consequently, we predicted that the behavior of nonretarded
perceivers would be more consistent with stereotyped
expectations about nonretarded children when they thought they
were speaking to a student in special education
than when they thought they were speaking to a child in
regular education. Similarly, research has shown
that evaluation by a nonretarded audience impairs mentally
retarded children's performance of an academic task (B.W.
Gottlieb, 1982). We hypothesized that a nonretarded audience
might also have a detrimental effect on the social behavior of
children with mental retardation
because of their apprehension about how they will be evaluated
and treated. Consequently, we predicted that the behavior of
mentally retarded perceivers would be more like the stereotype
of a child with learning problems when they spoke to a regular
education student than when they spoke to a special
prediction was that the behavior of the targets, who
(unbeknownst to themselves) were described as special
education students, would be more like the
stereotype of a special education
student than would the behavior of the telephone partners
described as regular education students. This
finding would indicate that behavioral confirmation of
perceivers' stereotyped expectations had occurred.
perceivers completed a pre- and post-conversation measure of
their perceptions about what their partners were like. If
behavioral confirmation of perceivers' expectations did occur,
this should affect perceivers' post conversation ratings of
targets described as being in special or regular
education classes. Even if behavioral
confirmation did not occur, a large volume of research shows
that perceivers remember and interpret the behavior of the
targets in light of their stereotyped expectations about them,
a process known as cognitive confirmation of stereotypes (Darley
& Fazio, 1980; Miller & Turnbull, 1986). Accordingly,
we predicted that the descriptions we provided about the
targets might affect perceivers' post conversation ratings of
them even if there were no real behavioral differences between
targets described as being in special or regular
students were recruited from three schools located in a small
city (population 45,000), four schools from suburban areas
surrounding this city, and four schools from rural
communities. Perceivers included 15 males and 5 females who
had been diagnosed as mentally retarded and 20 nonretarded
students who matched them in sex and the school they attended.
All perceivers were 9-14 years old, with a mean age of 12.5
for mentally retarded perceivers (SD= 1.7) and a mean of 11.1
(SD=1.3) for nonretarded perceivers. There were no minority
students in the sample, which reflects the total population of
students in the schools we sampled.
retarded perceivers. Special education
coordinators in each participating school were asked to
identify students who were moderately mentally retarded (IQ
range 55-75) and who were mainstreamed in at least one regular
education class. The 26 students they identified
all scored at least 1.5 SD below the mean on IQ and/or
achievement tests, which is the state's criteria for
classification as mentally retarded. To obtain a uniform
estimate of the perceiver children's cognitive abilities, we
obtained parental consent and the schools' permission to
administer the Slosson Intelligence Test (Slosson, 1984) to
each student approximately 2 weeks prior to his or her
participation in this experiment. Parents of 2 children did
not consent to their children's participation, and 2 other
children were eliminated because their Slosson scores did not
fall within the 55-75 range. The average Slosson score of the
22 students who participated was 67.6 (SD= 4.7).
The special education coordinators
also identified for each mentally retarded participant one
regular education classroom in which the
retarded perceiver was mainstreamed. Forms for obtaining
parental consent were then sent to parents of all children in
that class. We administered the Slosson to all students for
whom consent was obtained and who were the same sex and
approximately the same age as the perceiver child. The student
whose Slosson score was closest to 100 was selected to be the
nonretarded match for the mentally retarded perceiver. The
scores of the nonretarded perceivers selected by these
procedures ranged from 90 to 115, with an average of 103.7
Test of recall.
In addition to testing the perceivers' intelligence, we also
administered a test of their ability to remember a verbal
description of another child. The experimenter showed each
student three pairs of portrait style photographs of same sex
children who were approximately the same age as the perceivers
and who were rated in a pretest as average in physical
attractiveness. For each pair, the experimenter pointed to one
randomly selected picture and said, "This child needs special
help because he or she has trouble learning." The
experimenter then pointed to the other picture and said,
"This child does not have trouble learning." The
experimenter then asked the student to indicate which child
does and does not have trouble learning. The students had to
correctly identify the child with and without learning
problems for all three pairs of pictures to be included in
this study. All nonretarded students we tested met this
criterion, as did 20 of the 22 mentally retarded students we
tested. The order and position of the picture said to
represent the child who has trouble learning were varied
across the three pairs of pictures.
partners were children who were recruited by sending consent
forms to parents of all fourth, fifth and sixth graders
attending a local school that none of the perceivers attended.
Signed consent forms were returned for 52 of 134 children. For
each perceiver, the same-sex child who was the most similar in
age was selected for participation as a telephone partner.
None of the telephone partners actually had learning problems,
so their behavior provides a test of the hypothesis that
children treated in accord with stereotypes about children
with learning problems will behave in ways that confirm those
stereotypes even if the children do not, in fact, have
learning problems. Although it also would have been
informative to have mentally retarded children speak to
perceivers who had been told they did or did not have learning
problems, this would be tantamount to labeling mentally
retarded children as retarded to other children. We did not
think the benefits of doing this outweighed the risks.
An experimenter took each perceiver student to a quiet room in
the school attended by that student. The experimenter
explained that he or she was interested in finding out how
children use the telephone to get to know one another, and
that the student would be talking on the telephone to a child
from another school.
then showed the perceiver child a portrait-style photograph of
a same-sex child approximately the same age as the perceiver.
Mentally retarded perceivers and their nonretarded matches saw
the same photograph, and the photograph was always different
from the ones used in the pretest of their ability to remember
descriptions of children. Perceivers were told that this was a
picture of the child they would be talking to over the
telephone, and that this child likes to play different games
and is looking forward to summer vacation. A randomly selected
sample of the retarded perceivers (and their nonretarded
matches) were also told that the child they would be speaking
to "is in a special class for children who
have trouble learning" and the remaining perceiver
students were told that the child "is in the same grade
you are." The experimenter asked perceiver students to
pretend that they would be meeting their telephone partner
sometime soon and that they had 5 minutes to get to know that
person over the telephone.
then asked the perceiver students to make predictions about
the social characteristics and behaviors of their telephone
partners. They were asked whether (yes or no) the telephone
partner would make fun of them, help them out, be someone they
want to be like, get along with their friends, think he or she
is better than they, get special favors, and be
someone they would feel sorry for. These seven questions were
selected from a previous study in which the perceiver students
had participated (Miller et al., 1989). Results of that study
showed that both mentally retarded and nonretarded perceivers
expected a special education
student to be more likely than a regular education
student to get special favors and be someone
they would feel sorry for, whereas they expected a regular education
student to be more likely than a special education
student to display the remaining behaviors.
was assigned a score of 1, which indicated that telephone
partners were expected to be like a (stereotyped) regular education
student, or a score of 2, which indicated that perceivers
expected their telephone partners to be like a (stereotyped) special
education student. The seven questions were then
summed to produce a score that could range from 7 (least like
stereotypes about special education
students) to 14 (most like stereotypes about special
education students). This score is referred to
as an index of stigmatizing social behaviors because a high
score indicates that a child is perceived as being similar to
stereotypes associated with members of a stigmatized group
(i.e., children with learning problems).
were asked to predict whether (yes or no) their telephone
partner would be slow to learn new things. This question about
the telephone partner's academic ability was embedded among
the questions they answered about their partner's social
experimenter prepared the perceiver student for the telephone
conversation, a second experimenter met the perceiver's
assigned telephone partner at the school attended by the
partner. This experimenter gave the telephone partner the same
explanation given to the perceiver students, except that the
telephone partners were always told that the other child was
in the same grade they were. Students were asked to use
fictitious names for themselves and for their schools, but
were otherwise free to talk about anything they wished.
Immediately after the conversation, the experimenters asked
perceivers and telephone partners to report what the child
they spoke to was like on the same questions used to assess
perceivers' pre-conversation expectations. The experimenters
then explained the purpose of the study to the children.
experimenters audiotaped each child's contribution to the
telephone conversation. These recordings were rerecorded in a
random order. Three different types of observers then listened
to and evaluated the recordings of the students' behavior.
Observers were currently employed elementary and secondary
teachers and school administrators enrolled in a summer
postgraduate seminar (n = 30), nonretarded middle school
students (n = 22), and college students enrolled in
introductory psychology (n = 80) (see Note 1). The middle
school students were recruited from a school that none of the
perceivers or telephone partners attended. Consent forms were
sent to parents of all students in sixth, seventh, and eighth
grades. The first 26 students for whom consent was obtained
were scheduled, and 22 of these (9 females, 13 males) kept
The purpose of
these ratings was to see what impressions the participants'
behavior made on people similar to those with whom they might
interact. We deliberately did not train these observers
because we wanted to see how naive observers might evaluate
the children's behavior. We included different types of
observers because age and expertise could affect perceptions
of children's behavior.
Procedures for obtaining ratings from teacher, peer, and
college student observers were similar. All three types of
observers were told only that they would be listening to a
series of tape recordings of children's telephone
conversations and asked to rate their impressions of each
child. They were given no information about how the
conversations were conducted or about the identity and
characteristics of the children involved. Each type of
observer listened to the conversations in small groups (7-10
observers). Perceivers' and targets' contributions to the
conversation had been recorded separately, and each group of
observers listened to a randomly selected subset of these
recordings. After the group listened to a child's contribution
to the conversation, each observer rated the child on a rating
form. Thus, each perceiver's and each telephone partner's
recording was independently evaluated by separate groups of
teachers/administrators, peers, and college students.
social behaviors. Observers rated each child they heard on
the seven stigmatizing social behaviors described above. They
indicated the likelihood that each behavior would characterize
the child's interaction with other children on a 5-point scale
(1 =very unlikely; 5=very likely). Ratings on each scale were
averaged across observers within each type of observer group.
Before these averages were computed, all items were scored so
that higher scores indicated more similarity between the
child's behavior and stereotypes about children with learning
problems. For example, high scores indicated that other
children would feel super" for to the child and would not
want to be like the child. These average ratings were then
summed within each observer group. This produced three indices
of stigmatizing social behavior for each child which could
range from 7 (least like stereotypes about special
education students) to 35 (most like stereotypes
about special education students).
Each index represented the average impression his or her
behavior created on a different group of observers.
Observers also were asked to estimate each child's grade level
and to rate on 5-point scales the likelihood that the child
would be slow to learn new things, would perform well in
school, and would have above average intelligence. The average
rating made by each type of observer was computed for each
item. Then, the ratings that had been made on 5-point scales
(i.e., ratings of the children's ability to learn, school
performance, and intelligence) were summed to form an index of
academic ability which could range from 3 (low ability) to 15
(high ability). Thus, each child received scores representing
average teacher/ administrator, peer, and college student
estimates of his or her grade level and academic ability.
Ratings of Each Other
ratings of their telephone partners on the index of
stigmatizing social behaviors were analyzed to see (a) whether
perceivers had stereotyped expectations about their partners
prior to the conversation and (b) whether perceivers
maintained their stereotype based perceptions after conversing
with the telephone partners. The analysis used to address
these questions was a 2 (Perceiver Child Classification) x 2
(Telephone Partner Description) x 2 (Pre- vs. Post-telephone
conversation) analysis of variance in which the last factor
was within subjects.
There was a
significant main effect for telephone partner description,
F(1,36) = 3.99, p =.05. This effect indicated that telephone
partners described as special education
students were rated higher on the index of stigmatizing
behaviors (M=11.1) than were telephone partners who were not
so described (M=10.4). Table 1 presents perceivers' mean pre-
and post conversation ratings of telephone partners in each
experimental condition. Although examination of these means
suggests that differences between ratings of special
education and regular education
telephone partners were more pronounced before the
conversation began than after it was over, the interaction
between timing of the ratings and telephone partner
description was not significant, F(1,36)=.96, ns. There was a
significant main effect for the timing of the ratings which
indicated that, regardless of condition, perceivers thought
their telephone partners had displayed less stigmatizing
behavior (post-conversation M= 10.4) than they had expected
them to (pre-conversation M = 11.0), F(1,36) = 11.37, p <
.01. Mentally retarded and nonretarded perceivers did not
differ significantly in their ratings of the telephone
partners, F(1,36) =.48, ns. Thus, both retarded and
nonretarded perceivers cognitively confirmed their stereotyped
expectations about their telephone partners.
described above also were used in an analysis of variance of
perceiver's ratings of whether their telephone partners would
be slow to learn new things. Results revealed a significant
interaction between perceiver child classification and
telephone partner description, F(1,36) = 6.21, p < .05.
Simple effects tests showed that nonretarded perceivers rated special
education telephone partners as slower to learn
new things than regular education partners (Ms =
1.1 and 1.7, respectively; 1=yes and 2=no), F(1,36)=25.4, p
< .001. In contrast, mentally retarded perceivers' ratings
of special and regular education
telephone partners (Ms = 1.1 and 1.3, respectively) did not
differ significantly, F(1,36) = 2.34, ns. For both groups of
perceivers, ratings made before and after the telephone
conversation were virtually identical.
Finally, Table 1
also shows mean scores for telephone partners' ratings of
perceivers on the index of stigmatizing social behaviors.
These ratings were analyzed to see if telephone partners
detected behavioral differences between mentally retarded and
nonretarded perceivers and between perceivers who thought they
were special education or regular education
students. An analysis of variance in which perceiver
classification and telephone partner description were the only
factors revealed no significant effects. A similar analysis of
telephone partners' ratings of the perceivers' ability to
learn new things also revealed no significant effects.
Ratings of Stigmatizing Social Behaviors
ratings of the children were used to see if people not
directly involved in the telephone conversation could detect
any behavioral differences resulting from perceivers'
expectations about their telephone partners or from
differences in the social skills of mentally retarded and
nonretarded perceivers. Ratings on the index of stigmatizing
social behaviors were analyzed by a 2 (Perceiver Child
Classification) x 2 (Telephone Partner Description) x 2
(Child's Role: perceiver vs. telephone partner) x 3 (Type of
Judge) unweighted means analysis of variance. The child's role
in the conversation was treated as a within-subjects' factor
because the behaviors of perceivers and telephone partners
were interdependent, making the dyed the unit of analysis.
Similarly, type of judge was treated as a within subjects
factor because to do otherwise would greatly inflate the
degrees of freedom and power of the analysis, and because the
children, not the observers, were the unit of analysis (see
revealed a significant interaction between perceiver
classification, telephone partner description, and child's
role in the telephone conversation, F(1,36) = 5.57, p <
.05. Table 2 presents mean ratings of perceivers and telephone
partners and summarizes the results of simple effects
comparisons between means.
As might be
expected from previous research on social skills, mentally
retarded perceivers engaged in more stigmatizing behaviors
than nonretarded perceivers. However, this was true only when
perceivers spoke to a regular education student,
F(1,36) = 11.07, p < .01, not when they spoke to a special
education student, F(1,36)=.52, ns.
telephone partner description significantly affected the
behavior of mentally retarded and nonretarded perceivers, the
differential treatment telephone partners received did not
affect their behavior. That is, simple effects tests revealed
no significant differences in the behavior of telephone
partners who supposedly were in special education
or regular education classes. Finally, the joint
effects of telephone partner description and perceiver child
classification were similar across all three groups of
observers, F(2,34)=.46, ns.
Ratings of Academic Abilities
ratings on the index of academic afility and estimated grade
level were submitted to analysis of variance in which the
factors were the same as those used to analyze the index of
stigmatizing behaviors. We had predicted that nonretarded
perceivers would talk down to a special education
student, and results for estimated grade level suggested that
they did. The interaction between perceiver child
classification, telephone partner description, and child's
role in the conversation was significant for estimates of the
child's grade level, F(1,36) = 4.26, p < .05, but was not
significant for the index of academic ability, F(1,36) = 2.41,
tests on estimated grade level (see Table 2) revealed that
nonretarded perceivers who spoke to a special education
telephone partner were rated nearly two grade levels lower
than nonretarded perceivers who spoke to a regular education
partner, F(1,36)= 11.70, p<.01. Moreover, nonretarded and
retarded perceivers were rated as being in approximately the
same grade when perceivers thought their partners were in
regular education classes, F(1,36) = 1.83, ns,
but nonretarded perceivers received lower grade level ratings
than their mentally retarded counterparts when perceivers
thought they were speaking to a special education
student, F(1,36)=4.53, p<.05.
in the way perceivers treated special education
and regular education students did not produce
any significant effects on telephone partners" estimated
analysis of the index of academic ability revealed no effects
relevant to self-fulfilling prophecies, there was a
significant interaction between perceiver child classification
and the child's role in the conversation, F(1,36) = 4.64, p
<.05. Simple effects tests indicated that mentally retarded
perceivers received lower academic ability ratings than did
nonretarded perceivers (Ms = 8.8 and 9.9, respectively,
F(1,36)= 14.74, p<.001, but that academic ability ratings
of the telephone partners who spoke to mentally retarded and
nonretarded perceivers did not differ (Ms = 10.3 and 10.6,
respectively), F(1,36) =.68, ns. Because mentally retarded and
nonretarded perceivers actually did differ in academic
abilities, whereas their telephone partners were randomly
assigned to condition, this finding is not surprising.
retarded and nonretarded perceivers who participated in this
study engaged in a relatively naturalistic conversation with a
child whom they believed was a special education
or regular education student. Impressions of the
conversation were assessed from multiple vantage points:
perceivers' reports about their partners, telephone
partners" reports about perceivers, and naive observers'
ratings of both perceivers and partners.
Confirmation of Perceivers' Expectations
perceivers' point of view, the conversation was relatively
straightforward. Prior to the telephone conversation, those
children who were told they would be speaking to special
education students expected their partners to
behave in a relatively stigmatizing fashion. After the
conversation was over, they reported that their partners had
behaved in a relatively stigmatizing fashion. This occurred
despite the fact that observer ratings of telephone partners
revealed no behavioral differences between partners who
supposedly did and did not have learning problems. Thus, both
mentally retarded and nonretarded perceivers cognitively
confirmed their stereotyped expectations about special
education and regular education
research has indicated that labeling a child as mentally
retarded often has relatively weak effects on perceptions when
information about the child's behavior also is available, it
is surprising that perceivers in the present experiment who
had the opportunity to converse with the target children
persisted in their stereotyped beliefs (Bak & Siperstein,
1987; Gibbons & Gibbons, 1980; Siperstein & Bak, 1985;
van Bourgondien, 1987). One important difference between the
present study and previous research is that perceivers
actively participated in a real interaction with the target of
their stereotypes, whereas participants in prior research
typically were exposed to filmed or written portrayals of
another child's behavior. Being involved in the give-and-take
of a conversation with a real child probably is a more vivid
experience than is reading about or watching another (often
fictitious) child's behavior. Although this could make the
targets" behavior in the present study even more salient
than it usually is, the relative richness, complexity, and
spontaneity of an actual interaction could also leave more
room for biased interpretation and remembering of behaviors.
The finding that
perceivers maintained their stereotyped beliefs about their
partners after the conversation was over does not mean that
perceivers were oblivious to their telephone partners'
behavior. There was a highly significant difference between
perceivers' pre- and post-conversation ratings that indicated
that, regardless of condition, perceivers rated their
telephone partners' social behavior during the conversation as
less stigmatizing than they had expected it to be. This
finding suggests that the relative difference between
perceivers' postconversation ratings of special education
and regular education telephone partners is not
simply the result of their being unwilling to change what they
had said prior to the conversation. Perceivers did change
their ratings of their partners in general, but this did not
eliminate the effects of telephone partner description on post
conversation ratings. Nevertheless, it would be desirable in
future research to include conditions in which stereotype
measures are administered only after the interaction is over.
This would reduce some of the demand characteristics that may
have contributed to perceivers' ratings in the present
Expectations on Perceivers' Behavior
According to the
observers, mentally retarded perceivers' displayed more
stigmatizing social behaviors than did nonretarded perceivers
only when perceivers thought they were speaking to a regular education
student. Because observers did not know which perceivers were
retarded and, in fact, were never told that any of the
children they heard were retarded, their judgments about the
social behavior for of the perceiver students could not have
been biased by their own preconceived ideas about mentally
retarded and nonretarded children. Thus, the finding that
observers detected differences in the social behavior of
retarded and nonretarded perceivers who spoke to regular education
telephone partners indicates that the two groups of perceivers
actually behaved differently.
of social skill development could account for this behavioral
difference, but the finding that observers detected no
differences between the social behavior of mentally retarded
and nonretarded perceivers who thought they were speaking to a
child with learning problems provides an alternative
explanation. Perhaps some of the social skill
"deficits" of retarded children are a consequence of
perceivers' grade level were consistent with the hypothesis
that nonretarded perceivers would "talk down" to a
child with learning problems. When nonretarded perceivers
thought they were speaking to a special education
rather than a regular education student, their
estimated grade level dropped from approximately the seventh
to the fifth grade. In fact, when speaking to a special
education student, nonretarded perceivers
apparently went to such great lengths to accommodate their
partners' lower cognitive abilities that they appeared to be
in a lower grade than did retarded perceivers in the same
are consistent with previous research showing that people use
baby talk when speaking to retarded people (DePaulo &
Coleman, 1986). They also are consistent with results of some
recent studies which suggest that nonretarded children may
overcompensate for the cognitive impairments of retarded
children by patronizing them (Gibbons, Sawin, & Gibbons,
telephone partner description affected grade level ratings of
nonretarded perceivers, it did not affect ratings on the index
of academic ability. This suggests that, in adjusting their
behavior to accommodate the needs of a child who supposedly
had learning problems, nonretarded perceivers acted relatively
younger and/or less academically advanced, but not necessarily
less academically able.
In contrast to
nonretarded perceivers, there was no evidence of expectation
effects in estimates of mentally retarded perceivers' grade
level. One reason for this may be that, although mentally
retarded perceivers expected special education
and regular education telephone partners to
differ in social behavior, they expected both types of
partners to be equally slow to learn new things. Lacking
differential expectations about their telephone partners'
learning abilities, mentally retarded perceivers had no reason
to talk down to telephone partners in special education
classes. Alternatively, mentally retarded perceivers may have
little control over those aspects of behavior that communicate
academic progress. There were real differences between the
academic abilities of retarded and nonretarded perceivers, and
these differences were detectable by the observers. This
suggests that retarded perceivers may have been unable to
modify ability-related behaviors even if they had been
motivated to do so by their expectations.
Telephone Partners' Behavior
perceivers' beliefs about their telephone partners' learning
abilities affected their own behavior, the telephone partners'
behavior should have been affected as well, but it was not. It
may be that the telephone partners simply were unaware of the
treatment they received. The finding that there were no
differences in ratings made by telephone partners of
perceivers who thought they were speaking to special
education or regular education
students is consistent with this notion. Another possibility
is that telephone partners were aware of how they were treated
but, due to self-presentation concerns (Baumeister, 1982),
were unwilling to accurately report their impressions of the
perceivers or to respond in kind to the treatment they
because stereotypes about mentally retarded and nonretarded
people are not simple, uniformly positive or negative
expectations (Miller et al., 1989; Willey & McCandless,
1973; Williams, 1986), perceivers probably were communicating
a relatively complex set of expectations. Results of a number
of studies indicate that the targets of such expectations
often fail to confirm them in their behavior (see Deaux &
Major, 1987, for a review). Finally, the social interaction we
observed was a brief telephone conversation. Longer or more
frequent interactions might be necessary to establish the
conditions that would create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This study was
not designed to determine which of the perceivers'
expectations were the most important determinants of their
behavior, and there may have been some important expectations
that were not included on the measures we used. Also, because
variations in verbal labels, physical appearance, and behavior
can affect children's evaluations of supposedly retarded and
nonretarded children (see Siperstein & Bak, 1986, for a
review), it is possible that using a different way to
communicate information about a child's learning abilities
might produce somewhat different results.
We also chose to
test our hypotheses by measuring the impressions the
children's behavior made on observers rather than by measuring
the occurrence of specific behaviors. A disadvantage of this
method is that it reveals the existence of behavioral
differences without pinpointing precisely what it was the
children did that created the impression they made. The major
advantage of this method is that it is sensitive to relatively
subtle differences in behavior that otherwise might be
uncodable. For example, the difficulty of including all
relevant and important behaviors in a coding system may
explain why systematic observations of the behavior of
mentally retarded and nonretarded children often fail to
document differences between them, despite the widespread
assumption, supported by reports from teachers and classmates,
that such differences exist (Gampel et al., 1974; J. Gottlieb
et al., 1978; Peters et al., 1974; Taylor et al., 1987).
Although some researchers believe that the occurrence of rare,
but critical, behaviors might account for this discrepancy (e.g.,J.
Gottlieb et al., 1978), we suspect that many behavioral
differences that affect children's acceptance of one another
are too subtle to assess by counting the frequency and
duration of specific behaviors.
sampled only children with moderate mental retardation
who were mainstreamed in at least one regular education
classroom. Characteristics of the participating schools and
the communities they serve are likely to have influenced the
results we obtained. Consequently, stereotypes might have
different effects for other populations of children with mental
demonstrates that expectations have observable effects on
mentally retarded and nonretarded children's social
interaction with another child. It indicates that nonretarded
children may adopt simple speech when addressing a child with
learning problems, and suggests that some caution should be
used when attribusing differences in social behavior
exclusively to differences in the social skills of retarded
and nonretarded children. Because recent research has shown
that the actual behavior of children labeled as retarded or
nonretarded is a more potent determinant of how other children
react to them than is the stigmatizing label (Gibbons &
Gibbons, 1980; Siperstein & Bak, 1986; van Bourgondien,
1987), it is tempting to conclude that stereotypes may be less
important than was previously assumed. However, the findings
of the present study indicate that stereotypes may lead
children to alter their behavior toward others. By
anticipating what a retarded or nonretarded child is like,
both types of children may precipitate reactions from others
that otherwise would not occur.
was supported by Grant No. G008400642 from the U.S. Department
student observers made separate ratings (in a random order) of
the first and second half of each conversation. A preliminary
analysis of variance in which the first and second halves of
the conversations were compared produced no theoretically
relevant effects. Consequently, we used each college student's
average ratings of the first and second halves of the
conversations for all subsequent analyses to make it possible
to compare their ratings with those made by teacher and peer
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grateful to Robert Rosenthal for suggesting this analysis.
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T. Miller, Department of Psychology, John Dewey Hall,
University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405-0134.
By Carol T.
Miller , Richard T. Clarke , Vanessa L. Malcarne University of
Vermont , Debra Lobato Rhode Island Hospital and Brown
University , Martha D. Fitzgerald and Pamela A. Brand
University of Vermont
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Source: Journal of Special Education,
Winter91, Vol. 24 Issue 4, p454, 19p, 2 charts.
Item Number: 9602291896