Date of Award

2000

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Psychology

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Greg Dear

Second Advisor

Dr Elizabeth Foreman

Third Advisor

Dr Paul Chang

Abstract

The present study was a preliminary investigation of factors that affect potential helpers' emotional responses, perceptions and willingness to help when confronted with information about a hypothetical friend who overdoses. One hundred and forty-two undergraduate students attending Edith Cowan University (Joondalup Campus) were randomly assigned to one of six conditions and read two vignettes. In the first vignette, information was provided of a hypothetical female friend's overdose. The second vignette included information about the overdose that either supported or contradicted information in the first vignette regarding the woman's history of self-harm. Participants then completed a questionnaire designed to measure their emotional reactions to the woman, their willingness to help, perceived motives for the overdose and predictions of future self-harm. The data from the study were analysed using mixed model ANOVAs. There was reason to believe from the literature reviewed, that participants would express more positive emotions and greater willingness to help when the stated intention for the overdose was to die and there had been no previous self-harm, than when the intention for the overdose was not to die and there had been a history of self-harm. Further, it was predicted that participants would choose interpersonal motives to account for the overdose when the intention was "not to die" and there had been a history of self-harm. Intrapersonal motives were predicted to have been selected when the intention was to die and there was no history of self-harm. Contrary to predictions, participants reported high positive emotions and claimed they would help regardless of the reported intention for the overdose and history of self-harm. In addition, the motives identified by participants as possible explanations for the overdose were not found to be associated with suicide intent and history of self-harm. As with James and Hawton's (1985) findings, participants in this study reported a mixture of interpersonal and intrapersonal motives for the woman depicted in the vignettes, despite differences in suicidal intent and history of self-harm. Predictions of future self-harm were found to be associated with stated suicidal intent, with the likelihood of future self-harm being rated as higher when the stated intention for the overdose was to die than when it was not to die. The results from this study suggest information regarding suicidal intent and history of self-harm of a hypothetical overdose do not affect university students' reported emotions and willingness to help. However, it would be premature to conclude that suicide intent and history of self-harm do not affect potential helpers' judgements. Further methodological improvements and replication of the study with other population groups such as medical staff and other helping professions are required before such a conclusion can be drawn. The finding for predictions of future self-harm is encouraging and warrants further research.

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