Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours


Faculty of Health and Human Sciences

First Advisor

Valerie Roche


Labels can be identifiers of deviance from social norms and values as well as cognitive heuristics. Labelling theory proposes that deviancy labels create a perception of a stereotypical master status (Becker, 1963), which biases perceivers' impressions. The master status principle of labelling theory is analogous to the schema-based models of impression formation proposed by social psychology. The opposing view is that individual characteristics influence social perception to a greater extent than labels. The present study investigated the master status prediction of labelling theory using a social psychological framework. Empirical and theoretical evidence suggests that the perceptions of the people who play a part in the lives of people with the "intellectual disability" label has the power to influence their behaviour, and their social identity. Trainee disability service providers (n = 107, 24 males, 83 females) rated their affective responses and cognitive impressions in relation to one of six written vignette descriptions of a stimulus person. In a 2 x 3 (label x individual characteristics) design, the stimulus person was described as having the intellectual disability label or no explicit label and personal and social characteristics that have been identified as positively socially valued, normative, or negatively valued. Participants were randomly assigned to the resulting six experimental groups. The study was conducted under conditions that have been shown to promote schematic processing of information. Principal components analysis of responses revealed cognitive impression dimensions of agreeableness, trustworthiness, and competence. MANOV A analysis of results showed no influence of the intellectual disability label on participants' impressions, F(4,92) = 1.38, p = .245. A significant main effect fur individual characteristics on impression was demonstrated F(8,186) = 3.31, p = .001. Post hoc stepdown comparisons showed that affective responses and attributions of competence were increased by descriptions of positively valued characteristics. Results are discussed in relation to differences Intellectual Disability Label between attributes of the purposive sample and the general population. Implications for disability service provision and for the social identity of people who have an intellectual disability were examined. Suggestions were made for empirical modifications, and for use of integrated perspectives on social information processing in future field research.