Date Presented

Spring 5-1-2023

Document Type




First Advisor

Virginia Cylke

Second Advisor

Laura Kicklighter, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Daniel Murphy


Laws are set into place in order to guarantee proper rights for U.S. citizens in need of medical care. Previous research suggests that public opinion of mental health influences the treatment of vulnerable populations diagnosed with mental illness. This study explored the ways in which social pressure to conform influences policies regarding prison inmates, children, and adults. It concludes with suggesting changes to existing policy. The present study was a 3x3 factorial design. The independent variables were public opinion (pro-issue, anti-issue, and no opinion) and type of ethical dilemma (forced medication on children, forced medication on prison inmate adults, involuntary hospitalization of adults). The dependent variables measured the change score of general attitudes towards these issues, social desirability, and susceptibility to social influence. Participants were given one of nine scenarios describing a medical ethics dilemma and a specific public opinion of that issue. Participants then answered 3 surveys about the scenario they were randomly assigned to. Participants scored higher on the social desirability test after reading a vignette about children rather than adults or prison inmates. Participants also indicated more ethical decision making after receiving a vignette about involuntary commitment when compared to those who read about involuntary medication. Although the initial research hypotheses were partially supported, evidence suggests people generally have more concern for children in medical situations than prisoners.