EFFECTS OF THERAPIST ATTRACTIVENESS, TREATMENT SETTING, AND SUBJECT SEX ON PERCEPTIONS OF THERAPISTS

FLORENCE DITMAR, Fordham University

Abstract

A study was conducted to determine if treatment setting could mitigate the effects of female therapists' physical attractiveness on subjects' reported willingness to engage in psychotherapy and perceptions of therapists' personal characteristics, credibility, and effectiveness with personal problems.^ A 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 partial, hierarchical design was employed with the independent variables of therapist physical attractiveness (attractive vs. unattractive), therapist (1 vs. 2 nested within the attractiveness variable), treatment setting (traditional vs. humanistic), office (1 vs. 2 nested within the treatment setting variable), and subject sex (male vs. female). It was hypothesized that therapist physical attractiveness and treatment setting would independently affect the dependent variables and that there would be an interaction effect between therapist physical attractiveness and treatment setting. Specifically, there would be significant differences in ratings between attractive and unattractive therapists in humanistic treatment settings, but not in traditional treatment settings.^ Two pilot studies were conducted to provide manipulation checks on the stimulus materials. In the primary investigation, 160 male and 160 female undergraduate psychology students were presented with slides of either an attractive or unattractive therapist and either a traditional or humanistic treatment setting. All subjects heard a single audiotaped therapist self-description. Subjects completed rating scales regarding willingness to engage in psychotherapy with the therapist (one scale) and perceptions of therapist personal characteristics (nine scales), credibility (15 scales), and effectiveness with personal problems (15 scales).^ A series of multivariate analyses of variance were conducted on subjects' ratings. Therapist physical attractiveness was found to have a significant effect on all four dependent variables. Specifically, attractive therapists received more positive ratings than unattractive therapists. Treatment setting was found to have a significant effect on subjects' perceptions of therapist personal characteristics. Specifically, therapists in traditional treatment settings received more positive ratings of friendliness and likeability than therapists in humanistic treatment settings. A significant multivariate interaction between therapist physical attractiveness and treatment setting was found for subjects' perceptions of therapist personal characteristics and effectiveness with personal problems. Specifically, attractive therapists were perceived as more friendly and more effective with the problems of depression and drug addiction than unattractive therapists only in humanistic treatment settings.^ This study confirmed the results of previous studies regarding therapist physical attractiveness and found that treatment setting (i.e., traditional treatment setting) can effectively mitigate some of the effects of therapist physical attractiveness. One implication of the present results is that unattractive therapists may need to show their worth by the external display of conservatism, professionalism, and officially recognized competence while attractive therapists need not rely on similar trappings. ^

Subject Area

Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

DITMAR, FLORENCE, "EFFECTS OF THERAPIST ATTRACTIVENESS, TREATMENT SETTING, AND SUBJECT SEX ON PERCEPTIONS OF THERAPISTS" (1980). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8020056.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8020056

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