Background: Caregivers' emotional and cognitive reactions to challenging behaviours have been identified as potential determinants of their reinforcing responses towards such behaviours. However, few studies have explored factors affecting caregivers' emotional and cognitive responses to challenging behaviours.
Methods: Sixty students inexperienced in work with people with challenging behaviours and 60 experienced staff watched one of two carefully matched, acted videotapes depicting self-injury maintained by attention or escape-from-task demands. The participants were also told whether the self-injury depicted typically led to mild or severe consequences for the person filmed. The subjects completed measures of their negative emotional reactions to the self-injury and their behavioural causal beliefs about the behaviour depicted.
Results: Analyses of variance revealed that students reported more negative emotional reactions and were less likely to endorse behavioural causal hypotheses. Those who watched the severe self-injury videotape also reported more negative emotional reactions. Two effects of the behavioural function of the depicted self-injury were also found: (1) attention-maintained self-injury was associated with higher levels of endorsement of behavioural causal hypotheses; and (2) severe attention-maintained self-injury led to the strongest negative emotional reactions, but only from students.
Conclusions: The effects of experience and behavioural function on emotional reactions and behavioural causal beliefs need to be explored in more detail in future research. If replicated, the present results have significant implications for theory and practice in the remediation of challenging behaviours and the support of care staff.