Gender effects and aggressive challenging behaviour in people with learning disabilities

Spencer, Alison (1999). Gender effects and aggressive challenging behaviour in people with learning disabilities. The Open University.



Background and Aims

Recent research has highlighted the importance of the causal attributions and emotional reactions of staff in determining their responses to challenging behaviour. Although it has been suggested that men and women may differ in their emotional reactions and that female clients may receive more intrusive interventions, services remain gender-blind. The aims of this research were to investigate any gender differences in the perceptions and responses of staff with regard to aggressive challenging behaviour and to determine whether the gender of the client had any impact on their responses.

Design and Participants

A between subject factorial design was used where the factors were the gender of the participants and the gender of the vignettes. Sixty-four male participants and sixty-four female participants were recruited from residential homes, day centres and a diploma course. Half of the male and female participants received a male vignette and half received a female vignette.


The questionnaire consisted of measures of causal attributions, intervention behaviour and emotional reactions to challenging behaviour and a short section on demographic details.


Female participants were more supportive of the behavioural model in comparison to male participants and reported intervening in a more gentle, calming way. When presented with a male vignette, participants appeared to consider the challenging behaviour to be more serious. However, overall very few sugnificant differences were found between the gender of the vignettes, possible reflecting a tendency of participants to be 'gender-blind'.


Clinical psychologists need to consider the causal attributions and emotional reactions of staff when designing intervention plans and delivering training programs. It is also important to question whether male and female clients receive a different input from services and the extent to which services are gender-blind in relation to challenging behaviour.

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