Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Geoffrey Nelson

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


A study was conducted to investigate staff attitudes and everyday behaviors and their relationship to the independence of mentally retarded adults in four community residences. Questionnaires administered to 15 front-line staff persons measured their perceptions of the amount of external control (situations in which staff assume control over residents’ environments), personal control (situations in which staff encourage of allow residents to exert control over their own environments), and shared control (situations in which staff encourage shared responsibility between staff and residents in exerting control over the environment). The questionnaires tapped staff perceptions of the degree to which each of these types of control were being encouraged in their respective settings (real), as well as how much staff thoguht they should be encouraged (ideal). Two types of questionnaires were used: a general questionnaire which measured staff attitudes in consideration of residents in general, and specific questionnaires which measured attitudes toward specific residents. The impact of staff variables (age, sex, education, and experience) on questionnaire responses was also considered. In addition, participant-observation was carried out in each of the residential settings and interviews were conducted with the 15 staff members and the residential director of each of the four residences.

Questionnaire results pointed to direct relationships between the ideal and real levels of external control, and the ideal and real levels of personal control. No relationship, however, was found between ideal and real levels of shared control. In addition, there were inverse relationships found between external and personal control, and between external and shared control. There was a direct relationship between shared and personal control. Very little difference was found between responses on general and specific questionnaires. There was no impact of staff variables on questionnaire responses.

Results of the observations and interviews suggested that various strategies are used to implement the different types of control. External control strategies included positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment, nonverbal messages, teasing and put-downs, encouragement of emotional dependence, and the use of one’s intellectual superiority. Personal control strategies included patience, treatment of residents as adults rather than as children, staff’s relinquishment of decision-making power, laziness, phraseology, staff as models, physical arrangements of people, confidentiality maintained by staff, the use of natural consequences, and discouragement of emotional dependence. Also discussed were external controls imposed upon by staff. These included administrative policies and rules, and the location of the residences.

Convocation Year