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Chapter 5

Chapter 5. Hostile, Ambivalent, and Paternalistic Attitudes and Interactions

Moving from the origins of ableism to its consequences, the next two chapters focus on the distinct evaluative or attitudinal components of disability prejudice (Chapter 5), and how these impact disabled people (Chapter 6). Prejudicial attitudes include the emotional reactions aroused in response to disability, but also reflect cognitive beliefs which often motivate discriminatory behaviors (Esses and Beaufoy 1994). Attitudes are defined as relatively enduring, global evaluations about a person, group, idea, or issue (Eagly and Chaiken 1993). The expression of attitudes are the effects – the consequences of deep-seated universal fears, learned ideologies, and culturally bound stereotypes – but they can also be a source of prejudice when they contribute to restricted access, increased surveillance, and exploitation. Chapter 5 begins with key lessons from the large body of research on when negative (e.g. hostile, aversive) disability attitudes are most prevalent, and when more positive (compassionate, enviable) and mixed (pitiable, inspirational) or ambivalent reactions should emerge.

Research is contextualized according to the traditional methods popular in the quest to understand variations in attitudes toward disability, disabled people, and different impairments. Theory-driven perspectives are emphasized throughout, including approaches that examine when disability attitudes include both positive and negative evaluations at the same time, and how these ideas have been advanced by modern scholarship. For example, theories of ambivalent prejudice predict that when disabled people are assumed to be incompetent but warm, they are also the targets of disrespectful, condescending attitudes, and infantilizing actions. Consistent with this reasoning, pity and sympathy are the typical emotional responses to low-status, noncompetitive groups like the elderly and disabled (Fiske et al. 2002). Other evidence testing theories of ambivalent prejudice (Katz 1981; Glick and Fiske 2001) shows that positive or negative expressions of prejudice depend on whether disabled people behave in ways that are consistent or inconsistent with expectations. Disabled people who take on the “sick role” or are assumed to be dependent and incompetent are treated with benevolence and charitable concern while those who violate stereotypical expectations (e.g. participate in work, sex) are treated as threatening and receive more hostile reactions. Paternalistic attitudes and beliefs have been used to reward disabled people for their subordination, docility, and gratitude with supportive services and care, which then justifies the use of exploitation and control under the guise of protection. More hostile and aggressive forms of prejudice are more likely to emerge in response to those who challenge the status quo. … see more

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