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Date of Award


Degree Type

Thesis (On-Campus Access Only)

Degree Name

Master of Physical Therapy (MPT)

First Advisor

Ann K. Williams, PhD, PT

Second Advisor

Nancy Cicirello, MS, PT


The percentage of elderly in the total population is increasing and it is projected that geriatric rehabilitation and support programs will also increase. It has been shown that there is a correlation between negative attitudes toward the elderly and subsequent diminished quality or aggressiveness of care by health care providers. Belief in a just world theory; that is, the world is a place where people get what they deserve and are personally responsible for their own rewards or misfortunes, has been correlated with negative attitudes toward the elderly. The purpose of this study was to determine if first year students in four health professional programs at Pacific University: occupational therapy (n=19), physical therapy (n=29), optometry (n=79), and professional psychology (n=10), believe in a just world, and also to determine if this belief correlates with a tendency to blame the elderly for their dependency, and dismiss their needs. Statistical evaluation of a 56 item questionnaire included a one way completely randomized ANOVA to analyze differences between the four professional schools, a two way ANOVA to analyze results between program and gender, and a correlation matrix to determine relationships between beliefs. In agreement with previous literature, students in all programs scored close to neutral in belief in a just world. Unlike past research, this study found a significant difference in just world belief by gender. Males were more likely to believe in a just world than females. Belief in a just world was found to significantly correlate with a tendency to blame the elderly for a dependent condition, which supports previous research. Overall, this study did not find a relationship between just world belief and a tendency to dismiss the needs of the elderly. However, males were significantly more likely to dismiss the elderly's needs than were females. These results suggest that male health care professional students may benefit from curriculum interventions that help eliminate negative attitudes toward the elderly; and thus, lead to a higher quality of care for this growing segment of the population.


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