Date of Award

1990

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Henry Biller

Abstract

Hopelessness was explored from a developmental perspective. The investigation focused primarily on the relative importance of structural vs. functional variables in determining levels of hopelessness in children and adolescents. The two secondary aims of this study were to further clarify the concept of hopelessness, and to assess the construct validity of the Hopelessness Scale for Children (HSC: Kazdin et al., 1983).

Sixty-four children and adolescents scoring either "high" or "low" on the HSC were interviewed. Thirty-two of the subjects were children, 6-10 years of age. One half of these subjects were clinically involved. The adolescent sample also consisted of thirty-two subjects, who were 13-18 years of age. One half of these subjects were clinically involved as well.

Functional aspects of hope and hopelessness were assessed from two perspectives; problem-solving skills and general information processing. Problem-solving skills were tapped by presenting conflict-filled scenarios and recording subjects' initial and final appraisals, and the number of alternative solutions they generated. General information processing was assessed with two concept association tasks. Subjects' reaction times were compared on tasks involving processing of information in a negative-to-positive direction, as opposed to a positive-to-negative direction.

Structural aspects consisted of temporal and extratemporal conceptions. Subjects were asked to recall or anticipate life-events, to estimate the time of occurrence of each event, it's valence, and whether it was self-initiated, or imposed.

In general, high hopeless children and adolescents produced fewer initial and final outcomes, fewer alternative solutions, recalled fewer positive events, expected a greater improvement in the overall quality of their lives, and extended life-events further in time. In children, functional deficits were most critical in predicting levels of hopelessness, while among adolescents, structural alterations involving time conceptions, were the most powerful predictors.

The results suggest a state of hopelessness may be related to behavioral and cognitive-phenomenological aspects, even in children, 6-10 years old. However, the relationship between hopelessness and human functioning appears to vary greatly with age. Finally, the results provide some evidence for the validity of the HSC.

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